Society in the mirror (with a lens)
You know, this is going to sound pretty hilarious, but did you realize that photography is ancient? In the literary sense of the word. Primitive cameras (camera obscura) have been around since V century BC, components of traditional printing (silver chloride and silver nitrate) were discovered in the middle ages (XII-XIV century), and the term photography was coined in 1834 by Hercules Florence. Since Victorian times, whole generations were raised carrying smaller or larger gears, and scarring passers – by in the streets.
Yes, you are reading it right. Going places with a camera and getting shots of strangers has a long and established history. It is actually having its own art form within the photographic universe: street photography.
Street photography is closely related to her two younger sisters: documentary photography and photojournalism. But since documentary is dead serious and hysterical at times and photojournalism is wild and follows news exclusively, street photography had to find middle ground. She carved herself a niche by being observant, candid and true to historical aspect, but also by being ironic and focusing on less important issues of our daily lives.
Street photography is extremely user friendly and gets along with both professionals and amateurs. She doesn’t really care if you use a high tech mobile, digital SLR, an outdated Leica or a Holga that has holes in its body to make a picture. If you want to get outdoors and immerse yourself in the fabric of life, she will take you on a journey, even if you walk around the block. All she requires is an open mind and a patient eye.
If street photography was a real person and she would enter St James Cavalier Center for Creativity in Valletta last weekend (26 – 27 January 2013), she would have been proud. And flattered. Because, for the first time (in a really long while), we had a proper event dedicated to this form of photographic art. There was two – day `live in` exercise that included a photographic walk (Saturday morning) and printing session (Sunday morning), a discussion (Saturday evening) and a month long display of images, both vintage and modern (running until February 25, 2013). Something for everyone.
Despite stormy weather, morning activities gathered a group of fifteen enthusiasts who delivered a powerful panel of works from the day. Images from the walk were incorporated into the exhibition and adorn one of the walls at Lower Galleries of St James. If you had missed the exercise itself (like me), you can still see the outcome of it.
Evening discussion (dubbed “The Round Table”) gathered photographers, lawyers, journalists and government officials to debate privacy concerns, the rights of the photographers and pros and cons of digital era where everybody is snapping away like there is no tomorrow. Below, you can find a small clip of the talk posted on YouTube (the video was taken by Alan Falzon). Again, the weather scared away many people but still, discussion was heated. I mean it’s really hard to find a common ground between the right to privacy of people in the open space and the right of photographers to practice their hobby. Photographers were standing by their “shoot first, deal with the rest later” rule while lawyers and government officers were doing their best to counter – attack with paragraphs and clauses. At some point the discussion got a bit on the negative side when one person from the audience stated that in the digital era everybody was under surveillance. I argued back that heavy use of social media and phones doesn’t mean impending doom – rather it offers a chance to build a collective conscience and a common understanding. I must have channeled James Nachtwey in that moment, but really, I can’t stomach conspiracy theories.
On Sunday evening, the official opening of the exhibition took place. Entitled “Private Art – Exploring the relationship between art and privacy”, it features ten photographers. Each of them takes on a separate topic with a series of 5 prints. There is also a small section of eight vintage prints from National Archives – showing Malta from the turn of the XX century to the wild 60s. The exposition is curated by Vince Briffa, Joe Zammit Lucia, Sergio Muscat and Kevin Casha. All except for Vince have also contributed to the exhibit.
Kevin Casha concentrated on the outskirts of the society and people who have been outside of the mainstream of life (“The Emarginated”), Joe Zammit – Lucia embarked on a search for the identity of the inhabitants of the EU (“The Europeans”) while Sergio Muscat took a rather personal approach to the theme of loneliness in “7 000 000 000 : 1”. Other participants include: David “dp” Attard (with his take on “Clash of Civilisation” by Samuel P Huntington), Martin Agius (“Religious Processions” – quite a photojournalistic record), Alan Falzon (documenting life in one spot in his series “The Green Window”) and Armand Sciberras (dynamic study of living fast in “Rush 24”).
Ladies make a strong presence to the exhibition with Therese Debono exploring her “City Life” after a trip to New York, Kerstin Arnemann portraying “Street performers” busking around and Tomoko Goto documenting “Café Servers in Valletta”.
All together, the exhibition, often toned down to monochrome, is a wonderful collection of human emotions, short –lived moments frozen on print and a general soul searching for what really means to be a human being in today’s society.
I have forgotten who said that camera was nothing more than a mirror with a lens in which human beings could see their true faces. It may seem like a tool designed to steal people’s privacy but for those who look at the world through a viewfinder it is much more than that. Camera gives a photographer a rare chance to enter people’s lives; it offers a chance to see them at their weakest, most intimate, sometimes in their darkest hour. It puts a duty on a photographer to be at the service of the people, to portray them with dignity and compassion. You record and bear witness, observe and save moments from being lost. It may be just a small thing, a gesture, an occurrence that lasts for a second only. But once captured, it becomes a part of our collective consciousness, of what we are.
If you are curious how society is seen by a group of talented local photographers some of whom are my colleagues and friends, you will be most welcomed to visit St James Cavalier in Valletta.
I can vouch you wont be disappointed.
More information at:
Ps. However, you may be disappointed to hear that the food at the opening was delicious, so if you don’t want to miss out next time around at least in this department, keep future MIPP events in your diary 😉
Our review has been published in the MIPP (Malta Institute of Professional Photography) Newsletter for February 2013! Malicia is a junior MIPP member and she is very proud!
You may also see it online here:
Its a second time my review is published in the MIPP newsletter. Good day!