Mark Avellino and Alan Carville are both Australians of Maltese descent and the brainchilds behind Project Malta 24/7. They decided to venture on their high profile project after what suffering the brunt of jokes about the Maltese in Australia. Avellino and Carville brought photographers from around the world along with others from Malta and themselves to engage in a week long photographing marathon last July. The results are spectacular. If you have not seen the exhibition at St James Cavalier, get over there. Julian Manduca caught up with Mark and Alan this week.
What gave you the idea for Project Malta?
Growing up in suburban Melbourne, the Maltese were often the brunt of other nationalities jokes. Other European communities were flourishing with their events, identity and numbers. Although everyone knew someone who was Maltese, no one actually new where Malta was. We also found that most people used to make jokes about Malta because they knew it was a small island – they correlated the size of the island with the mentality, achievements and spirit of its people. This became the cornerstone of the project – to put Malta on the map and gain some respect.
The next stage was to come up with a concept that would capture the imagination of its people. The first idea was to base the project on immigration between Malta and Australia. This soon changed into an idea of photographing for 24 hours continuously. We felt that this wouldn’t receive as much recognition so we needed something that could be classified as a world record. We decided to change it into photographing continuously for not only twenty four hours a day, but for an entire week. From what was set out to become a world record, we were beaten by a month by the Americans who did a similar project in America. Initially disappointed, we realised that the project would still be a European first.
Tell us something about those seven days...what are the lasting impressions?
We had struggled to gain sponsorship for the majority of the project and in the back of minds we wondered whether any one was actually really interested in what we were doing. It felt that as soon as we stepped onto the plane our luck had changed. All the rejections that we had previously received were all of a sudden at our disposal. At the start of the project, midnight going into July 1, we cracked open some champagne bottles and the first photographers went about their shift. Everyone was nervous about whether they would capture that elusive image. Each photographer has a different story about the goings on of the project and all have expressed an interest to do a similar project in another country. The energy, enthusiasm and friendships developed between the photographers created an amazing bond. The Maltese people we had met, from all walks of life, are very dear to our hearts. At the stroke of midnight, when the project was officially over, Alan’s batteries went flat on the final image. This was the project that we were destined to complete.
Malta is both beautiful and also, in parts aesthetically unpleasing... how do you see it as photographers?
Malta has a particular colour palette due to its rocks, architecture, sky, sea and lighting. We had been mindful of this in that many images could end up looking similar. Both of us had visited Malta before and had an insight into how the images would look, so we decided on different approaches. Alan looked for contrasts in colours and also photographed a fair amount of images in monochrome. Mark looked at sections of colour, light and shadow, abstracting the images.
Your project has been very high profile, you were on Euronews, what has been the reaction of the Maltese public?
The response has been fantastic and has certainly opened up a few eyes. Most cannot believe that all the images were taken in Malta, yet alone in one week. When we live in a community that we are so familiar with, we often walk past things without giving them a second glance. Familiarity breeds boredom. Show the public that they live on a beautiful island with warm and welcoming people, and perhaps they may appreciate more with what they have. There are some who have reaped the benefit of the island without giving something back. We think its time to appreciate Malta’s history and build for its future, maintain its heritage and beautify what you have. In short, take care with what you’ve got – you are the custodians of your island and you are the ambassadors of Malta to the world.
Which photographers inspire you and which would you advise aspiring photographers to look up?
Mark has found his influences in photographers such as Richard Avendon, Ansel Adams and Bill Henson. Alan has found his influences in the humour of photographs by Elliot Erwitt. His other influence has been with Henri Cartier Bresson who coined the phrase “the decisive moment.” This is where everything comes together in a moment of time – for example, for a split second a subject may have the right expression on their face, never to be repeated again.
Unfortunately the majority of the project was self funded and we are yet to return the costs encountered. This has made it difficult to expand on the project. We have had offers from other countries to do similar projects as well as to tour the exhibition there; however there is no funding to stage it. We feel that Malta should acquire the images and use them to promote the island.
An exhibition in Melbourne is on the cards but we need a suitable venue large enough to showcase the quantity of images. Most large exhibition spaces in Australia need to be booked two years in advance.
Mark is continuing a personal project on abstract painted organic landscapes. Alan has recently re-located to Malta and is starting to work on a personal project photographing Malta using infra red film (another first for Malta). He also wishes to run a project photographing its indigenous plants.