Posts Tagged ‘black and white photography’
Albania is unique in that it is the only country in the world to have declared itself an Atheist state, ‘The Religion of Albania is Albanian-ism!’ was the slogan. All churches, mosques, were closed, turned into sports halls or storage warehouses, all religious worship declared illegal. In the 1960s, there was a concerted campaign to destroy ALL religious buildings and it was largely successful.
The buildings that survived (this picture being one of 8 churches that survived from the original 40 plus in Berat) did so as they were deemed to have historical and cultural significance rather than religious importance.
This picture is of the badly damaged interior walls of a Bektashi temple (Bektashism being a form of Sufi-ism), the exterior of this tiny temple bearing very few indications of being a place of worship and was indeed a store house for 40 years until the ban on religion ended in the early 90s.
So what fills a void, when you ban the worship of an unfathomable metaphysical presence? The oversized ego of equally unfathomable but rather more physically present Communist leader, in Albania’s case, Enver Hoxha. Apparently, on the death of Stalin, Hoxha gathered his citizens in Tirana’s central square, made them all kneel in respect and reverence and swear an oath of ‘eternal fidelity’ to their ‘beloved father’ Stalin. Presumably, the irony wasn’t lost on him…
As far as monuments of vanity go, this building, Hoxha’s Pyramid as it is called, is fairly modest. If you’ve ever had to scoop your jaw off the pavement as you take in the size and scale of Ceausescu’s Palace in Bucharest, you’ll know what I mean. Although, having said that, Enver Hoxha did have his name scrawled into a mountain range so wasn’t so modest after all.
I found the words of Shelley’s poem ‘Ozymandias’ (one of the few that I know off by heart) going round in my head as I stood in front of this building.
‘”My name is Ozymandias,King of Kings, Look on my works, ye might and despair”
Nothing besides remains, around the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away’
Instead of lone and level sands, it’s ripped up paving stones and graffitied walls, Hoxha’s Pyramid left in ruins – physically and symbolically.
In the National History Museum, the wing which housed Albanian post-war Communist era exhibits has been closed, with no foreseeable plans to reopen.
It seems to me that you can no more eradicate a country’s religious and cultural heritage as you can its ideological past, however uncomfortable either might be in the current zeitgeist. You’re simply replacing one ruinous and bloody battlefield with another.
These pictures were my thoughts on this topic.
Some photos I took in Tirana. I do always try and ask permission (if appropriate) before taking someone’s portrait but in Albania this was problematic as a ‘Yes’ is expressed by shaking the head from side to side and ‘No’ by an emphatic nod (reversed by those who deal with tourists more frequently). I was never quite sure if I had permission or not, I just hoped that a lot of smiling on my part would help either way.
The gentleman sitting outside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana
Inside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana – the lovely man who put all the lights on so that we could see its beautifully painted interior walls.
One very impressive moustache – in front of a tyre shop, Tirana
Hello. It’s been a while. I haven’t been taking many photos recently, which obviously means that for a blog that is ostensibly in existence for the posting of photos, there wasn’t really very much point in stopping by. Either for me or for you.
But hopefully that might start to change.
Starting with Fran’s Granny.
I have always wanted to take a portrait of Fran’s Granny as I think she has an amazing face, in fact she’s quite amazing generally. She turned 90 this week, received over 100 cards, had 4 parties, 3 cakes; she has lived in south west Scotland for all of those 90 years, knows everyone within about a 30 mile radius, knows their spouses and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. And even their offspring’s offspring’s offspring.
For all of you worried that your mind may start to deteriorate after the age of 60 or 70, take inspiration from this fledgling nonagenarian – but beware, she’ll probably beat you at Bridge, Sudoku AND Scrabble
… are lost. (Tolkein)
… and those who are silent are still saying something.
You just have to try a little harder to hear it.
Berlin is a very cool city indeed. And I can’t believe it’s taken me half a lifetime to visit for the first time. It won’t be the last, for sure. Not only is it a fabulously relaxed and laid back city, full of great bars, street cafes, cool shops and flea markets, it has, of course, the most extraordinary history.
A painful and disturbing history. There are definitely no victors in war, only qualities (and, of course quantities) of loss. But I think Berlin as a city has confronted its own painful past with a great deal of dignity and nobility. Everywhere you go there are mementos to those lost in the war, transported out of the city and never seen again. Painted on the wall of buildings, or brass plates embedded in the pavement, the names of those who once lived there.
And just as one enormous chunk of pain is being confronted and dealt with another comes along. On the morning of 13th August 1961, East Berliners awoke to find themselves sealed off from West Berlin with 100kms of barbed wire, 6 foot high, erected overnight and swiftly followed by The Wall.
Walls are mankind’s cry for help. A demonstration of its greatest single flaw. The inability to live peacefully and co-operatively with its neighbours. Every great wall is a symbolic, social, cultural, economic, ideological, emotional catastrophe. The more gargantuan the wall, the greater the catastrophe. Learning from history that we do indeed learn nothing from history.
These photos were on display at the cross section of Bernauer Strasse where they were taken 51 years ago. In 1961, the wall went up almost overnight, no-one knew it was coming and no-one was prepared for it. Suddenly, overnight, the division was in place, neighbourhoods were severed, those living along the fault line found themselves both walled in and walled out. Separated so definitively from old friends and neighbours and even relatives.
At agreed times, people on both sides of the wall would meet at this corner, wave to friends and family across the divide, show them new born babies, share their news by shouting it across to those on the other side.
I found these photos profoundly moving, particularly the woman in the first picture. It communicates so much about the anxiety and sense of loss that people must have felt, she’s waving of the white handkerchief as well, symbolic surrender and helplessness.
These photos gave me goose bumps.
This is the one and only picture I’m going to post from this trip to Malawi. The trip was short and the work was intense and there was very little opportunity to explore Lilongwe in the few days I was there.
‘Exploring’ is logistically difficult in Lilongwe anyway. I have always enjoyed taking myself off when in a new place, with a camera if possible, to just walk and to watch and explore.
But Lilongwe is not an easy place to do this. Everyone and no-one walks. And that all depends on where you sit upon the spectrum of wealth. On the one hand, Lilongwe is full of people walking, Malawi is full of people walking. All walking along a road somewhere, or pushing a bicycle, wheels buckling under the weight of the load being carried – stacked crates of vegetables for the market, sack upon sack of Nsema, pregnant or elderly relatives.
Then at the other end of the spectrum, no-one walks. The roads are full of giant 4×4 vehicles, powering round potholes and on towards the other stratosphere of existence.
There was a chronic fuel shortage whilst I was there which meant that lines of vehicles were left abandoned for days at petrol stations throughout the city in the hope that when the fuel lorry finally did arrive to replenish the pumps, they would be fairly near the front of an impossibly growing queue. There were ‘Petrol Watch’ Facebook groups set up, alerts went out that petrol was due imminently at a certain location, or newly arrived at another, and suddenly half our workshop participants vanished in the chase for fuel. Two or maybe three hours of waiting and finally you’d have a full tank. All that effort, all that anxiety and expended energy, all for a single tank of fuel!
There were queues for sugar too. Rationed to four bags per person, the sugar queues were set up outside the main shopping centres and kept orderly by security guards. The highest denomination of bank note in Malawi is now worth less than £2 and yet, to eat in a restaurant, to buy basic food stuffs at a supermarket, take a taxi into town or stay in a hotel – these all cost almost the equivalent as in the UK. Very few places take credit or debit cards so, imagine heading out for an evening to eat as a party of six and making sure you have the equivalent of £120 in £2 coins in order to pay for the evening. In Malawi it’s not £2 coins but 500 Kwatcha notes, in bundles the thickness of a household brick. Western purses are not designed for carrying the Malawian Kwatcha.
On the morning I was leaving, I did finally go for a walk. I stepped out of the Lodge I was staying in and walked along the road to the main shopping mall about half a mile away. There are no pavements, so everyone walks ON the road, body swerving the 4x4s as they body swerve the pot holes. A western woman walking alone along a main road is quite an unusual sight in Lilongwe and it wasn’t an entirely comfortable experience. I felt a little exposed and vulnerable, more so than I was expecting.
Walking back to the Lodge, the man in this picture stopped me and asked me for money. On the spectrum of wealth, he was clearly not at the end with the giant 4x4s or indeed with the complaints about how much Kwatcha is stuffed in one’s purse.
He was immaculately clean and well-dressed and was sitting in an improvised wheel chair, unable to walk. He had an air of defiant pride about him, and the way he asked me for money was as if it was both my duty and responsibility to agree, which I tacitly did.
I nodded, smiled and asked him if he would mind if I took his photo, turning this into a crude currency of exchange and he accepted. But he didn’t smile back. Not once. He remained defiant and proud. I respect him for that.