A people’s memory of a working-class neighbourhood

Werker Collective, February 2019.

Passatge d’Antonio Ruiz Villalba, La Marina de Port, Barcelona 2018.

The tradition of a territory’s photographic documentation being institutionally commissioned must be situated within the same colonial and imperialist logic that, since 1492, has exploited a sizable portion of Western academic and scientific output. As photography theorist Ariella Azoulay points out, the documentary character of the photographic medium—heir to this logic—has often been used to legitimise control over certain territories, as well as the actions taken and the people who live in those territories. Furthermore, when an institution assigns a professional photographer the task of documenting a city neighbourhood, there is an implicit break between the social value placed on the popular photographic documentation processes continually under way in urban territories and professionalised visual production. It would appear that the latter category is a more valid source of knowledge, with greater aesthetic or critical quality; a category worthier of being preserved and integrated into the territory’s historic memory than the corpus of images produced by the residents of the neighbourhood itself.

Working with this dual complexity of the colonial tradition of institutional documentary commissions (centre/periphery) on the one hand and the break in the degree of cultural value ascribed to the (amateur or professional) visual documentation generated in the city on the other, at the Werker Collective, we have tried to treat our commission—documenting the neighbourhoods of la Marina de Port and la Marina del Prat Vermell—as a chance to propose a paradigm shift within this tradition by making the social and therefore collective nature of any photographic act the focus of our proposal. To this end, working with a view camera has enabled us to share the process of image production with local residents: the inverted image projected onto the ground glass screen on the back of the camera can be viewed by several people at once, making it possible to compose the final image by consensus.

Photography is a social activity, a gathering place. As Azoulay suggests in her book The Civil Contract of Photography, several agents must be present for the full act of photography to take place, and their roles are interchangeable: model, photographer and viewer. Understanding photography as a gathering place transforms a medium traditionally dominated by unidirectionality (model/photographer) and hierarchy (photographer/viewer) into a social space for the sharing of all sorts of information, which, in our case, links photography and our artistic practice to the vital forms of knowledge and experience of the Marina’s other diverse platforms, groups and associations, with whom a collective self-representation process has been activated. We round out this proposal with a series of hashtags, with the goal lending continuity to the process by which the neighbourhood’s living memory is constructed, a process that we believe is essential to the production of political and critical imagination: a situated imagination.

“Hashtag Stickers”, a tool to construct the collective visual memory of la Marina neighbourhoods on social media. Barcelona 2019.