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A centre for photography

I would like to make a passionate appeal to the authorities on a particular subject which I have been pursuing for a long time. When will the powers that be finally realise the potential, the work, the professionalism and the plight of photographers and photographic organisations?

Photographers, whether professional, artists or hobbyists have, so far, been rather ignored when it comes to concrete help. Since 1996, I have been doing the infinite rounds of cultural ministries, parliamentary secretaries, government-funded entities and so on with the aim of trying to get help to find a place where photographers can finally have a premises where to meet, exhibit their work, organise courses, have studios and darkrooms, open a photography museum and hold international conventions and workshops.

I am always told that the idea is good, that photographers have been neglected, that it can be done but, after all these years, nothing concrete has ever happened. I have heard all the excuses.

To set the record straight, I have not been asking for any state-of-the-art premises or anything grand but a place which, with effort and reasonable funds, could become the reference point for all photographers on this island.

Location is not that vital either because Malta is small and, so, any locality could be considered, as long as there are some parking facilities.

Good service and marketing is what makes a place successful.

During my presidency of both the Malta Institute of Professional Photography and the Malta Photographic Society, I have always kept this issue in mind. It was for that reason that I have painstakingly tried to raise funds through various activities so that, should we ever get this place, we would have some money to finish it.

We are sure that if the photographic community was given a base we would be able to run it in a professional and sustainable manner.

The ever-growing legion of citizens involved and interested in photography keeps increasing all over the world and Malta is no exception. Why have countless other entities and associations been given premises through devolution but the local photographic community has not?

It is undeniable that photography is one of the most important contemporary art mediums practiced globally.

When one adds the fact that the island’s photographers keep regularly winning international awards and accolades, the lack of will by the authorities becomes ever more intriguing.

It is also the right time to establish a museum because, with the advent of digital photography, most of the old conventional items are either being disposed of or even thrown away. An effort must immediately be made to preserve these items for the future.

It is a sad state of affairs when such treasures like the Richard Ellis’ photographic collection cannot be made available to the public because it is not housed in appropriate premises. Thank God, people like Ian Ellis, who has nurtured and safeguarded this archive with the limited means at his disposal, has, till now, managed to painstakingly keep the collection together. This collection alone can be the mainstay of a photographic museum in Malta.

A few years ago, I managed, with the help of the National Archives in Rabat, to set up a digital picture archive. This was achieved through my insistence and thanks to the fact that Charles Farrugia, the national archivist, not only believed in the idea but rolled up his sleeves and helped.

Photographers have, so far, been rather ignored when it comes to concrete help

The archive’s main aim is to digitize photographic collections in Malta not only to make them available for online research but also to preserve copies of priceless images that would otherwise deteriorate and be lost to us forever. It is a slow and arduous process because funds are never available to continue this work in the manner it should. Is it really so difficult to provide some basic funds so this work can continue?

For those who are unaware, there are two main bodies that have worked incessantly to promote and improve photography in Malta. These are the Malta Institute of Professional Photography and the Malta Photographic Society. Together they embrace 600 members and one needs only to look at the events they organize to see how hard and professionally they work towards making local photography respected all around the globe.

Yet, the authorities do not seem to appreciate or recognize our efforts. Why are we being treated as the Cinderellas of the local art scene? Why has photography in Malta been left out in the cold?

I am sure that if there is the right political will, a place can be found to serve as a centre, thus giving a tremendous boost to Maltese photography, culture and also tourism. This will fill a glaring gap in the cultural agenda.

It would definitely be a crowning success if something is done, particularly with Valletta V18 coming up. I just hope that the authorities realise this opportunity.

It would be a tremendous legacy bequeathed to the photographic community.

Kevin Casha is president of the Malta Institute of Professional Photography.

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