Zvezdan Reljić, beloved photographic artist and MaltaToday designer, passes away at 62

Sudden passing of Zvezdan Reljić, photographer who opened his home to creatives for his unique photographic portraits and nudes, shocks friends and Maltese world of art

Zvezdan Reljic
Zvezdan Reljic

Zvezdan Reljić, the photographic artist and print and publishing specialist who gave MaltaToday several of its iconic newspaper identities, has passed away after a sudden health episode. He was 62.

Reljić, who built a life in Malta in the early 1990s after leaving the former Yugoslavia together with his late wife and seamstress Jasmina, was well known as a publishing specialist with an undying love for the art of photography. The couple had three children, Teodor, author and former film critic at MaltaToday, Jovan, and Tia, also a former staff journalist.

For over 10 years, he was a member of Network Publications, later Mediatoday’s design and print staff, ideating the MaltaNow cultural and arts supplement for MaltaToday, and later in its magazine format. He later redesigned MaltaToday’s look, selecting the fonts which remain, to this day, part and parcel of the print newspaper’s identity.

“He was a wonderful man who made Malta his home and dream,” said Saviour Balzan, Mediatoday owner, who worked closely with Reljić. “Both Zvezdan and Jasmina were incredibly creative individuals. Zvezdan developed one of the first online, cultural magazines – MaltaMag – which we purchased from him as a company. When he moved on, he kept developing his love for publishing, print, paper and design. We miss him terribly.”

In his element: Zvezdan Reljic
In his element: Zvezdan Reljic

Reljić created the Kixott co-operative, which he ran from its bar in Mosta as a hub for creatives, as well as EDE Books, the publishing house which this year won the National Book Prize for Loranne Vella’s Marta Marta. More recently, his tactile approach for the love of publishing came to the fore with his series of 15 chapbooks, a collection of hand-bound (personally by him), fresh contemporary writing and artwork, by established and upcoming authors and artists.

As a graduate of the Graphic Arts School in Belgrade in 1983, Reljić rediscovered his specialisation in photography reproduction many years later by holding his very unique workshops on black and white film photography and darkroom printing at his Sliema apartment. Countless students of his, friends and loved ones, visited his humble home to learn more of his craft and his ongoing design projects (a business term he found little favour with), to be entertained by the Reljić family for annual festivities, or taste his iconic coffee blend, a secret he gladly imparted to anyone who had the luck of knowing him.

Apart from the myriad publications he designed, Reljić became synonymous with his extensive collection of analogue film photographic portraits and nudes. The previous found their rightful place in Wiċċna, a collection of 200 photographic portraits of individuals from different backgrounds, generations and ethnicities, who resided in Malta, many accompanied by a short caption taken from the individual’s answer to the often complicated question “Where are you from?” – to Reljić, always a ‘Yugoslav’ first’, this would have been a reply replete with tales of a forgotten world in that liminal space between the West and the Iron Curtain.

[WATCH] Large-scale photography project Wiċċna to define diverse Malta

Using the lith printing process, Reljić’s chosen technique, he took pride in creating virtually ‘unduplicatable’ portraits. “No two prints can ever look the same,” he said. “It’s an alternative to more traditional forms of black and white photography, as it’s a hand-printing technique, using black and white or colour negatives, a suitable black and white paper and lith developer – from which the process gets its name.”

He used similar techniques for his nudes, where the sensuality of the female body posing or frolicking in his apartment delivered representations of women untroubled by the gaze, at ease on a sofa or inside his kitchen, the unlikely setting for subtle, playful and even absurd ‘erotica’. It was Reljić’s answer to stuffy establishment tropes, a sensibility that placed him proudly at the margins, silently enjoying a well-rolled cigarette and a cup of coffee, contemplating his next artistic endeavour.

How did he manage to open his house as this kind of haven for so many in the arts? For so many were the people who entered Reljić’s apartment, accepting to be captured on film or spend long hours in the darkroom, undoubtedly attracted by the gentle warmth of this soft-spoken artist, his deadpan humour, but also the childlike passion in the pursuit of his work.

For his was a unique talent – even the untrained eye can sense that Reljić captured one’s personality and natural disposition from behind the lens. It was his honesty and sensibility that managed to bring out the beauty in his subjects and all those who posed for him.

These ‘projects’ – his photography, his books of poetry and prose, photo-books and his cooperative – all form part of a legacy of undying love for art and culture, which he elevated to a plane that went beyond pecuniary gain. They all belonged to the insatiable mind of Zvezdan Reljić.

The staff at Mediatoday join the Reljić family to convey its deepest condolences on the loss of a beloved father, brother, uncle, husband, and friend.