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17 August 2008

John Demos, Albania

Forty-five years of Stalin-style dictatorship, self-sufficiency and international isolation made 20th-century Albania a land without images. The collapse of the regime in the early 1990s led Greek photographer John Demos, disguised as a bus-riding tourist, to discreetly record change in the country’s cities and towns. He later returned several times as a press correspondent. Nonetheless he opted for colour in his coverage of Albania’s fevered period of transition. Despite constant harassment, this ‘tourist’ more interested in street scenes than landscapes managed to bring an attentive eye to ambience in a country then in a phase of radical change. Driven by a finely tuned curiosity and real empathy for the people he met, Demos surmounted the many difficulties in photos that eloquently convey both the drama – political meetings, score-settlings, scenes of exile – and the more humdrum moments – everyday life, learning democracy, experiencing a new-found liberty – of history in the making. The power of the resultant reportage lies in the certainty it gives viewers that they are actually ‘watching’ real events taking place; understanding people’s feelings and thoughts as a country tests out the joys and pitfalls of putting freedom to work; and sensing a subtly nuanced range of micro-moments in Albania’s historic progress towards rebirth.

Exhibition venue: Magasin Électrique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2008.