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Striking, pictorial insight of Malta and its society

Kevin Casha leafs through The Times Picture Annual 2014

It is that time of year again, and photography enthusiasts, together with Melitensia collectors, are again being regaled with a book which has become an integral part of the local scene. The Times Picture Annual 2014, is in its ninth edition and gathers together some of the most outstanding photographs captured by the press photographers of Times of Malta during each outgoing year. It is not only a mere record of some of their most iconic images, but also a pictorial record of the main events and topics which made part of the local news scene and, as in previous editions, also portrays an incisive look at our society.

The quality of the work is also proof of the high level that local press photographers have attained. Equipment and technology has further enabled photographers to capture the exact split second where the peak of the action happens. French iconic photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, aptly termed it “the decisive moment”. Yet, equipment, although it does help and makes life easier, is not everything, and most of the images contained in this Annual amply demonstrate this important factor.

When approached to write this review, and whenever I am assessing or judging photographs, the first thing that I look out for is what I call the ‘photographer’s intervention’. How has the keen eye and the trained mind of the photographer impacted the final image which is presented to the viewer? I am not so impressed by photographs simply documenting a scene or an event, but I am impressed by the unusual viewpoint chosen by the photographer, by intelligent cropping, by clever juxtaposition of subject and background, by impact and, most of all, particularly in photojournalism, by the storytelling power of the image.

I went through the book and pleasantly discovered a host of outstanding images

Keeping this in mind, I went through the book and pleasantly discovered a host of outstanding images which have been created mainly through the photographer’s vision coupled with a quick, sensitive brain. One of the first images which stopped me to reflect was the image on page 14 by Chris Sant Fournier. Admittedly, it is more of a documentary image but it captures one of our society’s controversies – the hunting issue. The argument for and against keeps inflaming and the rather equal split between both lobbies reflects our society – which is very prone to dividing into two roughly equal camps on such hot issues.

This usually results in vital decisions being avoided by policy makers due to the amount of votes that are normally at stake!

On pages 20 and 21, the low viewpoint of the photographer gives the image its impact and Matthew Mirabelli’s choice of a slow shutter speed gives his photograph, a poster of Robin Williams as Popeye, (page 25) an interesting and engaging look at the subject. Matthew’s following image, a double-page spread of a karozzin in Msida floodwaters, is also another capture which shows his ability to obtain that decisive instant – the way the poor horse is trying to navigate the water imbues the image with empathy as well as removes it totally away from the cliché, touristic picture of the karozzin.

Another image which caught my eye was Darrin Zammit Lupi’s photograph of a World War I re-enactment. Such re-enactments seem to have become a popular part of Maltese society and usually hordes of camera brandishing, lens toting photographers try to capture the various photographic opportunities which arise out of such events. Yet, most images are disappointing as there is usually something or other which ‘gives the game away’. Zammit Lupi’s picture is not one of these, he has so cleverly captured the image that one feels one is actually witnessing a wartime document. Another curious image is Mirabelli’s photograph of a lonely David Casa, during a debate at the European Parliament (page 33). It makes one wonder were all the other Euro parliamentarians are!

There is also a selection of images by Zammit Lupi on the immigration issue which, for me, portrays all the drama. It is a very dark image of three immigrants waiting to disembark after another horrendous journey in search of freedom. The side light gives a chiaroscuro effect reminiscent of Caravaggio and aesthetically spotlights the grim and tired faces of the immigrants.

In this short review, space does not permit me to mention many other images in the book which surely merit particular attention. Yet I cannot leave out those on pages 55 and 78 which, for different reasons, prompt the viewer to stop and notice. It is also typical to see a group of swimmers trying to take a ‘selfie’ with their mobile phone in Zammit Lupi’s image on page 87. Through image capture technology, we have indeed become a truly narcissistic society and the ‘selfie’ is now deeply engrained in our daily lives. Mark Zammit Cordina’s lonely swimmer at Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, (pages 138-139) is a very keen exercise in the right composition, design and aesthetics, whilst his other photograph showing a typical Maltese pensioner, is an intuitive, somewhat humorous snapshot of local village life.

I hope that this little reflection on yet another remarkable edition of The Times Picture Annual, will intrigue and spur people to buy and treasure this incisive, at times poignant look, into our country and society. Naturally leafing through the book, each viewer will have his favourite images as due to our conditioning, each and every one of us will relate to the photographs in a different manner. That is the beauty of photography.

• The author is four times winner of the Malta Photographic Society’s (MPS) Photographer of the Year (1986, 1991, 1993, 1994). He is also the Malta Institute of Professional Photography’s (MIPP) first Photographer of the Year in 2004.

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