Press: ‘How I’m seeing Malta disappear through its doors’ – Times of Malta

Old store front, Balluta Bay © Helen Jones-Florio
Old store front, Balluta Bay © Helen Jones-Florio

 

To find my bearings, I walked… and I walked. It’s the only way that I know to get a real sense of any place I’ve ever landed in. So, leaving the vast concrete and glass apartment complex, perched on a peninsula, I turned down one narrow side-street after another – off the main drag of Sliema – and the true architectural beauty of Malta began to reveal itself… Helen Jones-Florio / Times of Malta

 

Old doorway, Msida, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Old doorway, Msida, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Having lived long-term in two major capitals, London and New York, where ‘rejuvenation’, ‘gentrification’, ‘generi-fication’ – however you want to tag it – has left its mark, which sadly, all too often means taking something away…

 

Men sitting outside of an old store front, bus station, Valletta (no longer there), Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Old store front, bus station, Valletta (no longer there), Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Derelict house of character, and part of Maltese balcony, Sliema, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
Derelict house of character, Sliema, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Each and every door or facade has a story – and, someone, somewhere on the island can tell it. And, I want to see what’s behind the doors – hence, I’m often peeking through letterboxes and broken windows! Read full feature in Times of Malta

Related posts ‘Disappearing Malta‘  & ‘Behind Closed Doors’

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Behind closed doors, Malta

Entrance to 'Savoy' house, Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
A way in. The entrance to ‘Savoy’ house, Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Abandoned, derelict, buildings have always held a fascination for me…

This particular one, a big house named ’Savoy’, is at the top of Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta. It’s been derelict for the last three years, at least. Who knows how long prior to that. I’ve tried to find some information on it and the most I can come up with, thus far, is that it may have been a guest house.

Walking by the other day, Florio noticed that the front doors were open – they are usually padlocked with a big old rusty lock. Maybe there were workmen in there, at last, beginning a renovation project? ‘Hello, anybody home?’. No answer. What harm could it do, to take a quick peek? I’ve wanted to see inside this place since the first time we walked past it, three years ago.

'Savoy' house, interior, Gzira, Malta - old art deco chairs © Helen Jones-Florio
‘Savoy’ house, interior, Gzira, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
Entering into the cool interior of what must have once been an impressive foyer, a beautifully ornate, wrought iron stairway, gracefully curves its way up to the first floor. Beneath our feet, and years of dust, beautiful old Maltese tiles, still very much intact in many places, line the floor. Could this have been a reception area? Several low-slung easy, art-deco style, armchairs, piled into one corner. And,  judging by wooden bed frames, stacked up high, one on top of the other, in another room, and numerous old wardrobes (in one of the rooms, they were mysteriously lined up, barricade-like, against panoramic floor to ceiling windows, as if to obstruct the light or, perhaps, to keep something, or someone, out? Derelict buildings always arouse my vivid imagination!) suggests that it could very well have been a guest house or small hotel.
'Savoy' house, interior, Gzira, Malta - old wardrobes barricade-like agains the window © Helen Jones-Florio
Barricade? ‘Savoy’ house, interior, Gzira, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
The marble stairs still looked solid enough, so we carefully made our way up the first curving flight, onto the first-floor landing. Treading with caution, hoping that the potholed, rubble-strewn floor would hold our weight, we edged our way through a labyrinth of hallways, poking our heads into room after room, sunlight pouring in from the many broken windows, lighting our way (I’m not sure I’d have been so brave to explore if there hadn’t been any natural light. LIke I said, vivid imagination). From the outside – despite its present state of dilapidation – one could imagine that the building was once a house that would have stood out, regally, amongst its neighbours.  And, from what we could see, that would have been reflected in the interior, too.
'Savoy' house, interior, Gzira, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio
No exit – ‘Savoy’ house, interior, Gzira, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

'Savoy' house, interior, Gzira, Malta - patio doors overlooking the garden © Helen Jones-Florio
Room with a view – ‘Savoy’ house, interior, Gzira, Malta © Helen Jones-Florio

 

Entrance to 'Savoy' house, Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
‘Savoy’ house, Savoy Hill, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
I need to do some more digging, there must surely be photos somewhere, that depicts the house in it’s grander days, inside and out? Next time we pass by, and if we are lucky, and we find the front door is unlocked and open wide again, maybe we’ll venture up to the 2nd floor and onwards.

 

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Related work: Disappearing Malta / Doors & Facades #1 / Doors & facades #2

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Disappearing Malta – an unintentional photo series of doors and facades

Disappearing Malta Series - badly decaying facade of a house of character, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series -a badly decaying facade of a house of character, Msida, Malta. One of the very first doors that I photographed, in 2015, whilst waking to Valletta, which I searched in vain for the other day and I couldn’t see it. I suspect it was where there is now a construction site  ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta – vestiges of a tiny Mediterranean Island

When we first arrived on the island, three years ago, from living and working in West Africa, the contrast was stark. All I could see was what appeared to be concrete and glass multi-story structures (Sliema was our first home and for those who know the town, they will almost surely understand my first (mis)impressions). I seriously wondered what would inspire me to get my camera out – in West Africa, it was hardly ever not pointed at something or other. Yet, thankfully, within those first few days, I discovered ‘the doors‘.

 

Disappearing Malta Series - badly decaying front door of a house of character, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – badly decaying front door of a house of character, Msida, Malta. Another from the start of this photo project ‘found’ whilst walking to Valletta. It is still there, today (July 2018), but a large swath of the area around it is now under construction ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Florio was off on the assignment that brought us to the island, on an NGO vessel in the Mediterranean, documenting migrant and refugee rescues. So, I had some time to find my bearings and walking is just about the best way I can think of, to get to know any place I’ve ever lived in or travelled to.

Disappearing Malta Series - 'Meme' vintage shop front, Valletta, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – ‘Meme’ vintage shop front, Valletta, Malta. I love the vintage sign, and red is one of my favourite colours ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Leaving the vast concrete and glass apartment complex, where we were staying at the time, I  turned down one narrow side-street – off the main drag of Sliema – after another and the true architectural beauty of Malta began to reveal itself.  And so it was, during those first days on the island, my unintentional ‘Disappearing Malta‘ series began and I’ve been photographing doors and facades on the island ever since. Hence, my camera doesn’t have to collect dust between our assignments after all, as I’m still finding more to photograph each and every time I take a walk.

 

Disappearing Malta - a cat sits on an old balcony, Valletta, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta – a cat sits on the railings of an old balcony, Valletta, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

‘I often wonder if anyone still lives in this building or is it just the cats…’

I’ve always been captivated by imperfections, the wabi-sabi, of things – drawn to the echoes of places that once were. Spaces and places that no longer exist; or at least not in their original form. And, I’m particularly drawn to architecture.  I now have a growing obsession to capture the decaying beauty of the abandoned Maltese houses of character, before they disappear completely.

Disappearing Malta Series - 'Paces Press' vintage store front, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – ‘Paces Press’ vintage store front, Gzira, Malta.  ©Helen Jones-Florio
”Paces Press’ – Yet another early days discovery and one of my absolute favourites. I’m still pleasantly surprised to see it’s still there, whenever I pass by’
Doors of Malta - Blue door and balcony, St Julians, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Blue door and balcony, St Julians, Malta. It’s the first time that I have come across a balcony quite like this in Malta – kind of modern, yet retro. I also like the asymmetry of the image ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Disappearing Malta Series - vintage petrol station, Floriana, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – vintage petrol station, Floriana, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Doors of Malta - A peek inside - doorway to abandoned house, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
A peek inside – the doorway to an abandoned house, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

Furthermore, I want to see what is behind the doors…

Who lived in a house like this? I’m always peeking through letterboxes or broken windows (one of these days, someone will look right back at me, from the shadows of the interior of some decrepit building, and scare the hell out of me! Shades of all the horror movies I grew up watching!). Regretfully, since beginning this unintentional photo series, many of the doors that I have photographed – and the houses that surround them –  have already disappeared, and their history with it. In many cases, to be replaced by yet another characterless, generic concrete structure – for rental purposes –  clearly made with very little love. Either that or the doors are chained or boarded shut, locked up with ancient rusty padlocks, the keys to which have irrevocably long been lost.

 

Disappearing Malta Series - vintage workshop doors, Gzira, Malta ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – vintage workshop doors, Msida, Malta. This, to me, is like a work of art, albeit unintentional, it’s almost like a face with wide set eyes ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta 
an unintentional photo series
Disappearing Malta Series - House of Character, Devonshire House School, Gzira ©Helen Jones-Florio
Disappearing Malta Series – Devonshire House School, Gzira ©Helen Jones-Florio

 

The quest continues…

Helen Jones-Florio

 

Related work: Doors & Facades #1 / Doors & facades #2 .

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Ports of Hope, Malta – candlelit vigil

Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Helen Jones-Florio
Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Helen Jones-Florio

Candlelit Vigil, Malta – Ports of Hope

Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Jason Florio
Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Jason Florio

 

Ports of Hope – a candlelit vigil was held in Valletta, Malta, to honor the lives of those lost at sea, trying to reach a better life, and the need for solidarity –  5th July 2018.

 

Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Jason Florio
Ports of Hope, a candlelit vigil to honor the lives lost at sea and the need for solidarity, Valletta, Malta, 5th July 2018 ©Jason Florio

 

We feel the need to provide a space and opportunity to remember those who have lost their lives in their desperate effort to cross the Mediterranean Sea, hoping to seek asylum, to reach security and a better tomorrow. The horrific loss of life in the Mediterranean continues – somebody’s child, parent, brother, sister, friend, spouse… Ports of Hope.

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