Photo manipulation under communism confessed through Marubi collection

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 25, 2017 10:48

Photo manipulation under communism confessed through Marubi collection

TIRANA, July 24 – Image manipulation in Albania is as old as the history of Albanian photography itself but retouching became a norm for more than 4 decades under communism when even historical pictures and documents were edited and photographers worked under self-imposed censorship.

The manipulation saga has been documented by Albania’s sole National Photography Museum called Marubi where Albanian photography traces its beginnings in the mid-19th century with the opening of the first studio.

Luçjan Bedeni, the director of the Marubi museum, says the upcoming “Manipulation” exhibition at the Marubi museum in the northern Albanian city of Shkodra is aimed at shedding light on retouched pictures before and during the communist regime and contrast them with the original untouched negatives.

The first photo manipulations in Albania date back to the early 1860s soon after Pietro Marubi, an Italian immigrant fleeing political repression from his country, opened Albania’s first photography studio in Shkodra in 1858.

The picture of Pietro’s portrait with a body too small for his head, and stuck to the outside of a cup like a sticker and the faces of Kel Marubi and his sister placed on the bodies of two exotic African fighters, are the first examples of the development of such techniques. Experiments with photo manipulation were also used by the other generations of the photographers, Kel and Gege Marubi. The images of King Zog’s marriage to Queen Geraldine in 1938 taken by Kel Marubi were retouched and later published on the magazines of that time.

Manipulation became a standard after the communists took over in 1944, mostly used for propaganda purposes and to disappear traces of the so-called “enemies of the people” from pictures and documents.

In 1952, when forced collectivization started as part of the planned economy stripping Albanians of their property and land, the communist authorities also set up state-run photo departments with photographers, lab technicians and also members of the notorious Sigurimi state police supervising the process.

Photographers who had their own private studios were forced to hand over their photo collections and work for the government.

Marubi’s photo collection could not escape the propaganda machinery and the retouching techniques. The photo album “Traces of national history at Shkoder Phototheque” (1982) opens with one of the most incredible examples of manipulation during the regime. All personalities at the balcony of the Municipality of Shkoder posing at a ceremony on the reburial of patriots Çerçiz Topulli and Mustafa Qulli in 1936, were erased leaving only late dictator Enver Hoxha giving a speech.

A 1923 picture taken by Kel Kodheli was also retouched to remove national poet Gjergj Fishta as a disliked figure by the communist authorities in a photo originally featuring Shkodra MPs and Renaissance figures Luigj Gurakuqi, Gjergj Fishta and Ndre Mjeda.

Father Dom Nikolle Kacorri, a prominent activist of the Albanian national renaissance movement and a signatory of the country’s declaration of independence in 1912 did not escape manipulation as many other religious figures who were executed, imprisoned and interned after the country’s authorities banned religion in 1967, making Stalinist Albania the world’s first officially atheist country.

Kacorri’s name was later removed from the declaration of independence.

Curator Ermir Hoxha who has researched into Albanian art under communist from the end of the World War II when the communist took over until the early 1990s democratic movements and collapse of communism, says that for more than four decades retouching became a systematic intervention.

“For several years, specialized structures retouched all documentary photographic material from independence until the end of the World War II. The retouching included a systematic intervention on the elimination of disliked figures by the regime, to a degree that only about 13 pictures remained untouched,” he says.

In addition to the distant past, the regime’s status quo was specifically interested in the near past. The elimination of an important political figure, a common thing in late dictator’s Hoxha’s vicious circle, was followed by their elimination from history books and pictures hanging on public buildings.

Retouching was also used to recover historical and cultural values such as Marubi photo studio where all material underwent retouching, especially in the characters’ faces, to reduce damage caused over time. This kind of retouching was mainly positive in order to preserve the quality of pictures and the unrepeatable documentary values they represented, experts say.

Another alternative retouching method included intervention through chemicals on negatives, a process that eventually changed the original picture.

“We had problems with party leaders. Their pictures were processed in the lab to look better, or elements that did not honor or should not be on the picture were removed,” recalls photographer and graphic designer Petrit Kumi.

The processing of pictures went through a series of personal, structural, technical and ideological filters until publication. Self-censorship was the most efficient means of the superstructure.

Every photographer had built within oneself a self-imposed complex filtering mechanism that pre-determined what and how to photograph.

All pictures initially went through development labs and were later checked by editors. In case of official pictures of communist leadership, the picture also went through another stricter filter based in the Bllok area of the former communist elite or the party’s central committee.

The selected pictures for the “Manipulation” exhibition are part of the newly restored Marubi national museum of photography in Shkodra, home to home to 500,000 photos and negatives tracing the beginning of Albanian photography in the 19th century by capturing life and historic events in Albania and the region.

The exhibition unveiling a clearer picture of the country’s communist past will be open at the newly restored Marubi museum for two months starting August 3 until October 6.

A report by the Institute for the Study of Communist Crimes has unveiled the 45-year communist regime that collapsed in the early 1990s imprisoned or interned for politically motivated reasons more than 90,000 people, of whom about 7,000 were killed or died of tortures.

Albanian photography started with Pietro Marubi, an Italian immigrant fleeing political repression from his country. He opened Albania’s first photography studio in 1858. Three generations of Marubis followed in his footsteps. For about a century, the Marubi family amassed more than 500,000 negatives. The selection of pictures reveals the political, social, cultural and religious diversity of the country.

Several former communist buildings and memorabilia have been put on display for tourists and younger generations in Albania to learn about the country’s communist past.

The House of Leaves museum of the notorious Sigurimi police surveillance in downtown Tirana, a Cold War bunker outside the capital city that the former communist elite had built underground decades ago to survive a possible nuclear attack and the Sazan Island military base south of the country all house the mystery and phobia of the country’s communist leaders for about five decades until the early 1990s.

 

 

 

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times July 25, 2017 10:48