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Matinee: Attard And The Maltese Notarial Archives Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

13 October 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 171st in our series of Saturday matinees today: Attard And The Maltese Notarial Archives.

The Maltese Notarial Archives date to the times of the Order of the Knights of St. John, set up by Grand Master Lascaris in a document dated July 10, 1640. Notary Paolo Bonello's volume of deeds covering 1465 to 1521 is the oldest one in its holdings of over 20,000 manuscripts covering six centuries.

Some old stuff, in short.

Maltese photographer Alex Attard, who works primarily in monochrome, grew up a few blocks away from the Archives and remembers it as an imposing building whose door was always shut.

This clip is an excerpt from a documentary about the Archives. In this segment Attard talks about photographing some of the most damaged documents as if they were jewelry.

And, in fact, his harsh studio lighting against a dark background and high resolution imaging gives the damaged wads a mystical appearance where what words that have survived the ravishes of time almost seem oracular.

They're not, of course. They're just deeds. Who owns what. Names.

We see Attard and an assistant from the Archives select a mangled document to photograph and bring it to a small table he has simply covered in black fabric with a few clips to hold the fabric up.

He squats at the end of the table with his Nikon D800 and a Micro Nikkor on a tripod and shoots in natural light. As simple an approach as a quill pen dipped in ink.

More than jewelry, the documents appear like remnants of meteors that have melted into strange shapes as they burned through earth's atmosphere before cratering the planet's crust. They have a silvery shine to them in monochrome, the polish of another world.

But the closer you look, the more you can detect the edges of the pages, sometimes several plastered together.

And then you notice some elegant script. And you wonder what story that clump of paper could tell if only it were salvagable.


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