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Collection — ARCHIVE SERIES — 2

50th Anniversary Polytechnic University of Catalonia · BarcelonaTech — Beyond the ETSAB Archive 1875–2025


Awards Ceremony
Awards video


Photography as a model

Since its appearance in 1839, photography and architecture have had parallel lives. The first photographers were great travelers to until then unknown places. Their work wanted to generate irrefutable documents about the existence of the pyramids, the mosques or the hidden temples of Petra. But the political authorities of the different Western countries also wanted to have monumental catalogs of the buildings that defined each of the nineteenth-century nationalities and for this they required the systematic work of photographers.

On a small scale, those were the years of scientific journey. After the great voyages and the great discoveries, it was also necessary to know the closest things which, due to geographical and communication difficulties, were still covered by the veil of mystery. The appearance of the train and the new road layouts allowed these movements. The expedition members carried heavy photographic equipment and the delicate boxes that kept the virgin glass plates. Each image was fixed on a fragile negative that had to be treated with great care until its return to its destination. Those scientific travellers understood that their images would document the territory.

The publishing industry did not yet have the necessary technique for these photographs to be printed, so the first view albums were made up of original copies glued to sheets that framed them. Thus, it began the anthropological series, the study of folklore and also the systematized study of historical architectures.

Until then, travelers, those of the Grand Tour, for example, only had drawings to transmit their observations. Drawing as a manual skill, showed the personality of the draftsman and required an observation time, a sketching time and a delineation time for its execution. On the other hand, photography allowed us to go faster, shoot the camera, keep the plate and develop it when returning to the School. Many of the details that had not been seen in situ could be seen afterwards thanks to the mechanical reproduction—away from the personalism of drawing—of the photograph.

As in many other disciplines, photography also served to learn architecture both in academies and in technical schools. Then, it began the era that we could call photography as a model. The Escola Tècnica Superior de Arquitectura of Barcelona has— in addition to the photographic collections acquired to teach the history of architecture—a collection of 44,000 glass plates made by professors and students of the institution between the 1880s and 1920s. After the founding of the school, its first directors understood that in addition to scientific teaching in classrooms, architecture needed to be studied in its concrete material reality. It was for this reason that they organized field trips with their students. The trips were organized according to the monuments that they wanted to visit. They were, for the most part, the great representatives of the historical medieval Spanish and southern French architecture. From Carcassonne to Valencia, from Palma de Mallorca to Santiago de Compostela, not forgetting Toledo or Granada. Future architects measured, drew and photographed everything they visited.

In these plates, by an anonymous authors—either teachers or students—not only do the monuments studied appear, but also, and therein lies much of their current charm, which many times the professional’s camera does not want to see. The students photographed themselves while they measured and drew and also captured images of scenes that were in their journey, whether they were natural landscapes or citizens. That is why we must insist on the photographic techniques deployed, framing, depth, perspective or lighting, but also on what subjects are photographed and which ones were left aside even while being there with them.

As they were glass plates and negative, all students and teachers at the school could have their own positives so that, even if they had not participated in the trip, they had their photographic story understood as educational material.

For this contest, Archive Series—2, 148 photographs have been selected from the ETSAB collection. Its topic is the writing of a text in which each of the participants chooses at least two and at most four images from the set presented.

It is not required the journey to be scientifically reconstructed, nor to comapre the past represented on the plates with the present, nor to recognize, describe or record the photographed monuments.

It’s about building a story with them. The first thing will be to choose the images thinking of them as a visual support that will allow to develop a theoretical or conceptual theme about the relationship, from those inaugural years inseparable forever, between architecture and photography and more precisely, in our case, between Architecture, Architecture teaching and Photography.