A snapshot of Hamrun for future generations

A one-off, handmade book featuring photos of the people who make up the community of Hamrun is to be presented to the nation as part of a project that aims to document a country on the cusp of change at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Valletta between Wednesday 4 and Sunday 22 May.

On 4 May 2016, St James Centre for Creativity will play host to the The Great Book of Malta, Vol. 1: Hamrun; the gigantic, hand-bound, A3-sized book, which is the result of hundreds of hours’ worth of work by amateur photographers and Spanish master craftsman German Hernandez, will then be officially presented to the nation before being housed at an appropriate national institution.
“This book aims to be a snapshot of the trades, the businesses, the people, the fashions and the nuances that make up the community of Hamrun in 2016,” project coordinator and Hamrun resident John Baraldi said, adding that he was inspired by a book project in Ireland that aimed to create an equivalent to The Book of Kells, a medieval, illuminated manuscript.
“In many ways, The Great Book of Malta is a celebration of the ordinary; a celebration of life in Hamrun in a street by street manner, and an attempt to capture the soul of the town,” Baraldi adds.

“Thus it includes portraits of hairdressers, upholsterers, greengrocers, bands, ironmongers, corner-shop owners, bakers, tailors, shoemakers, tattoo artists, butchers, pigeon fanciers, horse owners, office workers, car repairers, pet-shop owners, pastizzi vendors, musicians, and every sort of person who makes Hamrun what it is: a living, breathing community.”
The creation of the physical book has been placed in the hands of Hernandez, a Spanish artist and book restorer whose workshop can be found in Valletta. The final artefact will be leather-bound by hand and will measure 29.7 x 42cm. Once it is completed, it will be presented to the nation in a leather and glass box to protect the workmanship and the contents.
“This project doesn’t only aim to give to the nation of Malta a way of remembering those who formed part of the community of Hamrun in the early months of 2016, but to also bring together individuals from different communities and nations in a celebration of Maltese culture and traditions,” Baraldi says.
While over 5,000 photographs were taken by 12 young photographers, the book will only include some 200 photographs. Even so, all the photos will be presented alongside the book in a digital archive that will incorporate information about each photograph and the names of everyone who worked on the first part of this monumental project. Moreover, the photos are to be projected on a huge, 20-by-30-foot screen at Pjazza Teatru Rjal in Valletta, as the basis for a big stage show about Hamrun this October.
“We decided to work with young, amateur photographers for a number of reasons,” Baraldi explains.

“Firstly, we wanted this to be a community-based project, in which everyone who was a part of it grew on a personal and professional level. Secondly, we wanted to instil a deeper appreciation and understanding of the Maltese Islands and the communities that make up the nation. Thirdly, a project of this magnitude is a wonderful for aspiring photographers, and we hope has given them a sense of wanderlust and inquisitiveness.”
On top of the book, Mr Baraldi and his team are now in the process of creating a series of video slideshows set to music, and are printing 10 large, eight-by-four-feet prints that will be exhibited at the St James Centre for Creativity between 4 and 22 May, before touring Hamrun.
“There’s so much pride in the town of Hamrun and we are sure that people will appreciate seeing themselves or their neighbours becoming the stars of this project. It is also a great way of promoting the locality as a destination with so much to see even with other Maltese people – after all, we all too often forget to look for the beauty within our own communities.”
The project is only the first step, however, as Mr Baraldi hopes to create a book of this kind for each locality in Malta and Gozo, thus capturing the essence of a nation that is quickly changing and evolving.
“The reality is that we have no idea whether this project will ever be finalised,” Mr Baraldi muses. “Even so, while Malta is full of monuments and paintings of the great and powerful, The Great Book of Malta aims to celebrate the beauty and power of its ordinary people, and it is their portraits that will be saved for future generations to dissect, study, learn from and reminisce about.”
The next step in this project is two-fold: the first is securing the financing for a mass-market version of the book to be printed so that anyone who wishes to own the first volume of this project can do so; and the second is choosing the locality to be featured in the second volume.
The Great Book of Malta, Vol 1: Hamrun will be exhibited at St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Valletta between Wednesday 4 and Sunday 22 May.