Studio Marubi for the first time presents to the Finnish public an extensive collection of Albanian documentary photographs taken between the late 1800s and the early 1900s. The exhibition presents the photography studio founded in Albania by Pietro (Pjëter) Marubi (1830−1904), over a period of three generations.
Born in Piacenza, Italy, and later a painter and sculptor, Marubi was obliged to leave his homeland owing to his youthful political activism as a supporter of Garibaldi. He settled in Shkodra, Albania’s northernmost city. As legend has it, Marubi acquired his first camera – a wooden three-legged box with something like an eye whose name was not even known by the shop keeper – almost by chance from a small local shop. After practicing and learning to prepare glass negatives Pietro Marubi soon opened his own business, Driteshkonja Marubi, with intent to “write with light”, in other words take pictures.
The first public Marubi photograph dating from 1858 is known as “Hamza Kazazi”. Changing his first name to Pjëter to match his new homeland, Marubi followed and photographed Albanian political events, and thus became well known also abroad. As an artist he wanted to use his camera to capture the beautiful landscapes surrounding Shkodra, as well as the costumes of the highlanders who were visiting the city. As his workload increased, he hired two assistants, the Kodheli brothers, both of whom were studying photography in Italy. Following the renewal ideas suggested by the younger brother Kel Kodheli (1870−1940), the studio was expanded and fitted with sunshades and sliding curtains. A recent technical invention, silver nitrate plates, was also taken into use as a “travel souvenir” from Italy.
Unmarried and childless, Pjëter Marubi left his studio to Kel Kodheli, who, as a gesture of gratitude, changed his own last name to Marubi. Kel continued and further developed Studio Marubi’s operations. Beginning in 1910s and 1920s, he began to use his camera outdoors, recording historical events, ordinary citizens and famous persons such as Prince Wilhelm of Wied, Albania’s short-termed king who arrived in the country in 1914. Kel’s son Gegë Marubi (1907−1984) represented the third generation of Marubi photographers. During the 1920s, he studied in Lyon at the first school in the photography and cinema founded by the Lumière brothers, and worked as a professional photographer in Shkodra from the late 1920s to 1952. He pioneered working with celluloid instead of glass plates.
Gegë Marubi donated Studio Marubi’s photograph collection to the Albanian government in 1978. Fototeka Marubi in Shkodra contains over 150,000 photographs, only a few of which have ever been published. Attempts have been underway since 1994, with UNESCO funding, to preserve the collection and make it more widely available.
The exhibition consists of 71 photographs, many of which depict elegant costumes, jewellery and weapons. About 30 Albanian objects were selected from the Museum of Cultures’ own collections to augment the exhibition. Most of the items were collected by the Finnish ethnologist Ilmari Manninen on his expedition to the former Yugoslavia in March-May 1935. At that time, Manninen was the director of the Ethnographical Department of the National Museum of Finland. He acquired the collection of textiles, jewellery and weapons from Albanians in Kosovo and Macedonia.
Present-day Albania is presented in two films. Elian Stefa’s and Gyler Mydyti’s film Concrete Mushrooms tells of the inventive ways in which the hundreds of thousands of bunkers built by the dictator Enver Hoxha are being converted to new uses. Another film is Crossing the Borders (text in English) directed by Elvis Lule.
Museum of Cultures