‘I don’t really think about the future’ | Joanna Demarco

When she got on board Project Sea Change to contribute a snapshot of Maltese youth, young photographer Joanna Demarco found that, unlike our recession-scarred European counterparts, local youths have a far more laissez-faire attitude towards the future. She speaks to us  about the project, which has taken form of both a book and an exhibition, and which is currently travelling across Europe.

Photography by Joanna Demarco
Photography by Joanna Demarco
Joanna Demarco
Joanna Demarco
Photography by Joanna Demarco
Photography by Joanna Demarco
Photography by Joanna Demarco
Photography by Joanna Demarco

How did you first become involved in the project?

The founder of the project, British photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg, was one of my tutors during my Masters course in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at London College of Communication. During my last tutorial session before summer last year, he mentioned Sea Change to me, which was already underway at that point, and told me it would be interesting to add Malta’s side of the story to the countries already involved. Asking me whether I would like to take part in this relevant project with some of the world’s best photographers is a great example of a rhetorical question. I flew back down to Malta shortly afterwards, to buy myself as much time as possible to work on it.

Did you have any ideas as to how you would represent Malta before you set about working on the project? And did this change much once you started?

The photography brief for the project was literally just ‘youth in Malta’, which, in its generality, gave me so much freedom to work how I wanted. Other than photographing youth, I also had to discover whether Maltese youth have any concerns regarding their future and how they feel living in Malta at this point in time. 

As I thought about the project, an avalanche of scenes came to mind which I thought typical of Maltese youth culture; images which defined or still define not only my own experience as a youth living in Malta, but also the lives of others whose lives differ from my own immediate experience.

However, despite making an effort to photograph the angles I deemed important, at the same time I did not want to predict the project beforehand, so I also went about it on an ‘unfolding as I go along’ basis. Many a time I would be talking to someone about the project and they would suddenly say, “You know what you should photograph?” and before I knew it, I would have another idea and access to the life of someone else – kind of like a snowball effect. Some of the photographs came about because I chose to go to a specific event or to meet a specific person who I thought would add value to the project, and there were other times when I would just have my camera on me and end up taking unplanned photos which were just as valid to the project.

Did you feel self-conscious about the project forming part of a larger network of photographers from Europe, and how Malta would ‘come across’ in your photos?

More than self-conscious, I’d say I felt challenged. Seeing the work of the other photographers created a bar which I had to live up to if I wanted a part in the project, and that pushed me more. The project is a peephole into the lives of Maltese youths, to give some sort of insight into how we live and does not try to completely sum it up. Actually, I was excited to show the lives of my generation –  I feel we definitely have much more to be happy about than ashamed of, and knew that if I tried to be as true to reality as possible, Malta would come across in an honest, good light.

What kind of picture of Malta emerges from your final selection of photos? What do you think they communicate about Malta and Maltese youth?

From feedback I have received, people have told me that my photos show intimacy with the subjects, which I think comes about from the natural community-like nature of Maltese.

Mostly, I feel the photographs selected for the book portray a generation of youth who personify Malta’s transition from a conventional, religious society to more of a secularised, globalised, modern country. This makes sense to me, since this current generation of Maltese youth were the first to grow up, both as members of the European Union while being exposed to so many global influences and ideas through the progress of technology and the internet. I think they show a Malta which is in transition.

The chapter on Malta includes photos from the traditional ‘banda’ members, to having shots in Paceville, to visiting an old relative and post-wedding photo shoots. It includes insights into the life of a migrant youth living in Malta and your typical summer day pool party. Visually, I feel there is a constant sense of aliveness and energy emitted by the youth throughout the chapter.

There was one time during the project when I became really aware of a factor which I knew of, but needed to be reminded about. Many youths in other European countries which took part in Sea Change were faced with worries regarding unemployment and emigration, which is understandable when taking into consideration the effects of the financial collapse some years ago.

In contrast, whenever I asked a Maltese youth what their concerns for the future were, they often had to think long and hard about it. I got lots of replies such as ‘I don’t really think about the future that much’ or ‘I live for today’ or ‘I worry I won’t be happy’. The replies as such did not come as a surprise to me because, after all I am a Maltese youth myself and know that things like employment and emigration are generally not things we worry about, but I was just reminded that we are lucky to not be facing these difficult times which youth in many other European countries are facing.

What many of the youths I spoke to did complain about was sometimes feeling claustrophobic within society. However, all the people I spoke to throughout the project had no plans to move anywhere else long-term.

What’s the next step for the project?

Some of the team behind Project Sea Change have just spent the past few days in Oslo, where the book and exhibition were launched at the Norwegian House of Literature. Following the launch, we held a workshop for media students, where the students had to document their own lives, creating more of an insight into the lives of European youths. The exhibition is travelling to Berlin, London and Vienna in the next few months.            

For more information, log on to: http://www.projectseachange.com/

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