A lament without misery

A ‘Lazarus Taxon’ is a species that disappears from the fossil record, only to reappear again later. In what is something of a hopeful invocation of the concept, French photographer Arnaud Griggio and Maltese architect Konrad Buhagiar are hoping to crowdfund a book on the fading traditional workshops around Malta.

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
27 April 2016, 8:15am
Arnaud Griggio
Arnaud Griggio
Shoe Repair shop, Gzira
Shoe Repair shop, Gzira
What led you to focus on these workshops as a subject, over other potential subjects in Malta? Why do you think they were interesting from a photographic perspective?

Those workshops are part of the identity of Malta. Beaches, parties, sun, the crystalline sea… okay, they’re all beautiful, but these subjects are well covered already, and to be honest, they don’t make Malta so particular or attractive to a foreigner like me. For me Malta is traditions, religion, history, architecture, stone, hunters and pigeon trainers.

From a photographic approach, these workshops are full of this Maltese spirit: colourful, full of details, mixing all these Maltese particularities in the same place, every square metre tells a story and photography is a lot about that, telling stories.

Stone sculptor, Rabat
Stone sculptor, Rabat
Would you say that the project is a swan song for the workshops, or do you hope it might actually raise enough awareness about these disciplines to perhaps encourage them to keep going, in some capacity? 

Depending on the disciplines, a lot have already disappeared. Malta is changing quickly: whether it’s the the changing of the harbour activities, the end of the old buses or the arrival of the digital era, the craftsmen can hardly find a place in this “new Malta”. Is it necessary to have rope-makers or book-binders? To preserve their knowledge? The book doesn’t provide these answers, but opens a door on that forgotten world – which is still alive, full of traditions and part of the Maltese identity. Is it good to lose one’s identity, to forget the past? I’m not so sure. 

The project is clearly not just about aesthetics, but has a strong element of social and cultural heritage. How did you incorporate both into your working method? 

I tried to not focus on the social aspect too much. It’s always there, in the background and in the details, but I didn’t want to do a miserabilist or a “save the workshops!” book. My research – my curiosity – was focused on what I see every day in Malta. In Valletta I see karozzin every day, but are people still building them? The answer to that will be in the book, among many others.

Was there a common feeling among the artisans, smiths and mechanics you spoke to and photographed? Did they share similar concerns, fears and dreams? If so, what were they? 

First, I really want to thank all of them for their patience and hospitality – it was a wonderful experience. They continue to work despite their age – the oldest among my informants was 83-years-old – and a lot of them keep quite busy, because people know them and like and respect what they do. They always do a good job, and often for cheap. Only a few of these artisans are young, and for most of them it’s the same story: they did the same craft in the family for generations, but the new ones don’t want to do it anymore and after them, nobody will continue the tradition.

Bus mechanic Luqa
Bus mechanic Luqa
Metal Worker, Valletta
Metal Worker, Valletta
Why did you opt for crowdfunding as the project’s financial lifeline of choice, and do you think the Maltese people will be responsive to the initiative?

We opted for crowdfunding because it’s the best way to gauge the people’s interest in the project, to enable constant communication with them, and also to remain entirely independent in our vision for the book. I hope the Maltese people will be sensitive to the subject. At the same time, however, I believe the project will also appeal to people abroad, hence why we went for a worldwide crowdfunding campaign. 

Lazarus Taxon will be crowdfunded through Indiegogo, and its campaign starts on April 25. For more information and to stay updated, log on to: http://lazarustaxonbook.com/ 

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...