An island dissected | Raphael Vella
We speak to artist and academic Raphael Vella about Shooting Society: Documenting Life in Malta, a new book of photographs and writings he co-edited with Carmel Borg and ask: does this exploration of Maltese society shed any light on ‘Malteseness’, and what it means today?
The book seems to operate on a mix of reportage – perhaps with a slightly ‘anthropological’ bent – and a creative interpretation of contemporary Maltese society. How did you go about negotiating this balance?
We decided from the start that we did not want to locate the book very clearly within the parameters of a specific discipline. We wanted to show that there are different possible approaches to ‘reading’ photographic images and different approaches to interpreting society and social phenomena.
In fact, we decided that literature should sit alongside other kinds of writing that are normally associated more with the social sciences. This is why we asked writers like Immanuel Mifsud, Adrian Grima, Trevor Zahra and Clare Azzopardi to contribute short stories written specifically for the book. Then, many essays were written by academics who belong to other fields, such as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, architecture, youth studies, education, fine arts, musicology and theatre studies. And, while the majority of the writers are Maltese, there are also a handful of international contributors who have dedicated at least part of their research to the study of Maltese society, such as Jon Mitchell, Gary Armstrong and Elise Billiard.
As for the photographs, we asked primarily for images of contemporary life in Malta, including some more unusual facets of smaller sub-cultures. Clearly, some photographers who work or have worked in journalism were particularly useful in building a good image bank because of the documentary nature of their work. But in the book there are also many images that have a more artistic or conceptual aim, as well as a few snapshots that were included mainly for their social significance.
Adrian Grima’s contribution to this book is a piece entitled, “Landscape of the Body”.