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Creating a new narrative for Maltese hidden history

Born in Valletta, into a family that has been in photography since 1913, photographer Alex Attard, is known to many as a renowned art and architecture photographer. He is driven by a passion to discover the beautiful and the extraordinary; inspired not only the obvious, but also by the ordinary, the overlooked and the inconsequential.

In the Notarial Archives, he found unbearable beauty in decay, harmony in disorder, and verve in detritus.  After immersing himself in the archives for days on end, he stumbled across an area on the top floor known as the ‘crying room’ – sadly called that because of the centuries-old documents severely damaged by WW2 and the ravages of time. These distorted volumes contained, for the most part, bilateral contracts and unilateral wills, the content of which shed a different light on Malta’s rich history. Many offered fragments illuminating the story of the common people against a landscape of everyday life, elements often overlooked and overshadowed by larger interpretations of history. In other words, the irrepressible interactions of life and the inevitability of death.

A collaboration with the Notarial Archives Foundation, resulted in a photography project, ‘Parallel Existences’, a series of never-before-seen, sculpture-like historical documents. After looking into the original purpose of these damaged documents, with the invaluable help of Joan Abela, the consultant historian for the Notarial Archives, and a passionate advocate for the restoration of these archives, Alex painstakingly captured the contents of damaged documents through artistic expression, presenting a new narrative of hope between himself and the document fragments, giving these fragments a new purpose, turning an irrevocable record into a piece of art. 

A collection of essays, in the form of a beautiful hardback coffee table book, edited by Joan Abela and Emanuel Buttigieg, emerged following this exhibition, inspired by Alex’s incredible creativity and ability to shun the obvious. A fitting conclusion to the exhibition and a new beginning for the Notarial Archives.