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
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…
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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‘.
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.
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.
‘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.
”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’
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.
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.
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.