Land of the Eagles
“An Albanian’s house is the dwelling of God and the guest. Of God and the guest, you see. So before it is the house of its master, it is the house of one’s guest. The guest, in an Albanian’s life, represents the supreme ethical category, more important than blood relations. […] Any ordinary man, on any day, can be raised to the lofty station of a guest. The path to that temporary deification is open to anybody at any time.”
Ismail Kadare, Broken April
The Land of the Eagles is a photographic series focusing on the urban centre and rural hinterlands of Tirana, the capital of Albania. Shot on 35mm in September 2015, the photographs attempt to explore and reflect upon the dichotomous constitution of the country.
Albania is rapidly transitioning from the late twentieth century isolationist rule of Communist leader Enver Hoxa into a modern, neoliberal capitalist state. A product of Ottoman rule, Italian imperialism and centuries of fratricidal and genocidal conflict in the region, the porosity of its borders is embodied by the irredentist conception of Greater Albania, a homeland which extends into Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and other Balkan regions.
Albanian has a young, secular and modest society whose isolationist identity is gradually ceding to a new cosmopolitanism. The republic is embedded in a range of international organisations and an expected future EU member, while its cities and rural areas wear the enduring ravages and derelict relics of Communist rule, in addition to widespread poverty. As a tourist destination its popularity is growing, yet it is infrequently photographed by the global photographic community.
The series’ title is taken from the name the Albanians gave to their country: Shqipëri, meaning ‘land of the eagles’. It also draws upon the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare’s observations about his homeland, and the exalted role of guests within its society: “The writer is always to some extent in exile, wherever he is, because he is somehow outside, separated from others; there is always a distance.”
By extension, we can confer the writer's outsider status to the photographer. This distance is explored in these photographs: my brother’s recent marriage into a large Albanian family has reshaped our family’s history; the history of our country now interweaves with that of his wife. We have transitioned from guests to blood relations, yet remain guests within the house of Albania, the Land of the Eagles – a beautiful and bewitching place.