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

Zvezdan Reljic’s Wiċċna pins its hopes on a crowdfunding drive to capture the multicultural reality of the Maltese islands

Hand-printed silver gelatin lith prints by Zvezdan Reljic. Wiccna is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. For more information on its crowdfunding campaign, including how to donate, log on to: http://www.zaar.com.mt/projects/wiccna/
Hand-printed silver gelatin lith prints by Zvezdan Reljic. Wiccna is supported by the Malta Arts Fund. For more information on its crowdfunding campaign, including how to donate, log on to: http://www.zaar.com.mt/projects/wiccna/

Wiċċna (‘Our Face’) will be a book of around 200 photographic portraits of individuals from different backgrounds, generations and ethnicities, who currently reside in Malta, many accompanied by a short caption taken from the individual’s answer to the often complicated question “Where are you from?”

With photographs by Zvezdan Reljic in a volume designed by the same, the book will also feature aesthetical, anthropological and literary essays on aspects of physiognomy, identity and photography, each written in a different language that has influenced Malta throughout its history: Arabic (Walid Nabhan), English (Alexandra Pace), French (Philippe Parizot), Italian (Virginia Monteforte), Maltese (Leanne Ellul), and Spanish (Antoine Cassar).

The brainchild of Yugoslav-born, Malta-based analogue film photographer Zvezdan Reljic, Wiċċna will be launched with an exhibition at Blitz, Valletta in November – where the accompanying volume will also be presented for the first time.

The project received an initial financial boost with the help of the Malta Arts Council – allowing Reljic to set up a small team in his small Sliema studio to coordinate photo shoots and cover the expenses of equipment and tools. Thanks to the Arts Council’s support, the Wiccna team have got to know and photograph over 200 persons and over 300 films and contact prints were developed.

Now, the Wiċċna book requires a further injection of funds to become a reality.

To this end, the photographer has turned to the Zaar crowdfunding platform in an attempt to gather up the necessary funds, which will go towards producing an eye-catching coffee table volume that will also have a strong local provenance. Should the funding drive be successful, Reljic will be enlisting the boutique bookbinding initiative Kotba Calleja to craft the volume from scratch, complete with a limited edition slipcase.

“We would like Wiċċna to be an extended snapshot of the nuanced – neither limited nor diluted – diversity of contemporary Maltese society. There are a number of questions I would like the book to attempt to answer, through the presentation and juxtaposition of portraits and captions, and through essays written in response to them,” Reljic says. “How wide is the palette of facial features that define the look of a people, insofar as such a definition is possible? How many faces can a people contain? How many peoples make up a face?”

Describing the lith printing process which characterises the Wiċċna project, Reljic explains how this, his chosen technique, is often presented as being “shrouded in mystery”.

“It is virtually ‘unduplicatable’, as no two prints can ever look the same. 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,” Reljic elaborates.

“The process is, in fact, extremely flexible and prints may be made with rather different properties. They may be extremely warm or very cold toned. They may be soft and subtle or gritty and graphic. The actual colours vary with the materials and techniques used.

“The process can produce different contrast and texture in different parts of the tonal range of a print – soft in the highlights and hard in the shadows. This mixture of soft, warm, creamy, grainless, light tones and hard, cold, gritty shadows is what makes lith prints unique,” Reljic adds.

Wiccna at ZAAR

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