The Parisian photographer Patrick Faigenbaum arrived in Barcelona in January 1999, because he was commissioned by the critic Jean-François Chevrier to take some photographs to illustrate a lecture on the topic of Barcelona, in which Joan Roca, a geographer and historian from Barcelona, would be intervening. In that period, Joan Roca was a teacher at Institut Barri Besòs and also the main co-ordinator of the Forum de la Ribera del Besòs, a space in the school where people could discuss together a variety of issues. This commission was part of a series of talks on cities, organised by Fondation pour l’Architecture, in Brussels.
Despite the different backgrounds, Faigenbaum, Chevrier and Roca had similar ideals, and this convergence of trajectories gave them the oppurtunity to experiment with aspects unknown to one another and to widen their horizons. Something that started by chance, was beginning to take the shape of an interesting project. The aim was to highlight an urban transformation process affecting the eastern seafront of the city, and not just a specific neighbourhood. The photograph-taking process adopted more and more a methodology based on the journeys that Roca and Faigenbaum did on foot, and on the discussions around the pictures taken. Faigenbaum found himself engaged in a work plan decided by Roca, based on his work of the historic trajectory of contemporary Barcelona. Roca concentrated especially on the history of neighbourhoods along the coast.
Barcelona, Besòs View is the outcome of this extraordinary collaboration between the photographer and the geographer to produce a unique urban portrait. It is a testimony of the transformation of the eastern waterfront of the city of Barcelona in the early years of 21st century, looking from the periphery of the Besòs River, towards the centre. The first photographs were taken in 1999, and the last in 2007. It aspired to do much more than simply expose a zone of the city. It was about offering a synthetic and general representation of an urban development process as pictured in the minds of the citizens, but from the perspective of the neighbourhoods on the north-eastern waterfront.
According to Joan Roca:
Constructing a vision that was locally rooted—but not “localist”—has been a way of contributing to a new perception of the ‘local’ and the ‘global’.
The project Barcelona, Besòs View has been an unfinished idea, as it was more of an instrument and working method that provided a complex and useful analysis of the transformation of a public imaginary. As an art project, it is a retrospective construction, that makes it hard to measure in terms of the usual critical variables. It is a document sui generis of Barcelona’s urban transformation, whose function was to accompany a cycle of political and institutional experimentation.