In 1902, the well-known Brazilian photographer Marc Ferrez (1843-1923) was engaged by Rio de Janeiro’s Avenida Central construction committee to document an architectural development plan that would transform the city centre into one of the Western Hemisphere’s most beautiful boulevards. The concept was highly ambitious: within three years, 1,700 properties would be expropriated and more than 500 buildings razed to create the new urban space. Once complete, Avenida Central (today’s Avenida Rio Branco) would be 2 kilometres long and 33 metres wide, and the city’s most important thoroughfare.

For his project, Ferrez used a large-format camera to reproduce elevations of the buildings and photograph them once built, allowing a comparison between the structures as planned and as built. Because the humid equatorial climate was not conducive to the conservation of albumen prints, the photographer decided to use collotypes, a photo-mechanical reproduction technique, for long-term preservation of his work in the form of Avenida Central: 8 March 1903 – 15 November 1906, a book of which he had 1,000 copies printed. Meanwhile, the dissolution of the government commission that had hired him obliged Ferrez to put the albums into long-term storage for financial reasons. While he sought solutions to his problem, a flood destroyed most copies of the book, with only a handful being salvageable.

The CCA collection holds 110 plates from the first edition, representing nearly the entire project. These photographs are an important visual testament to changes wrought by early twentieth-century urban redevelopment in Rio de Janeiro, of which the opening of Avenida Central was a key element. A number of other photographic documentation projects are found in the collection, enabling comparative studies of the transformation of cities from the nineteenth century to the present day.


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