In 1982, photographer David Pisani embarked on a personal project to photograph the city of Valletta (Malta) and its infamous red light district of Strait Street and ‘The Gut’. What began as a photographic essay on the city’s derelict buildings turned into an epic documentation of Valletta that spanned 29 years.
Valletta was founded in 1566 by Jean Parisot de Valette, Grand Master of the Order of St John. It was built on a grid plan by the knights of this order. The architecture has an interesting specificity, with its closed balconies and its religious ornamentation.
For two years, between 1798 and 1800, Malta was occupied by the French under Napoleon Bonaparte, and then by the British until its independence was declared in 1964. Throughout this period, there was a schizophrenia between the strict Catholicism of Maltese society and the prostitution that flourished there, first tolerated by the Order of St John and then encouraged and fed by waves of British or American sailors. Strait Street (from the Italian Strada Stretta) is a long, narrow street that was once lined with small, sleazy bars and brothels. With the disappearance of the sailors in 1979, the area was gradually abandoned and the buildings became dilapidated. The gentrification of the city began towards the end of the twentieth century.
Most of the photographs in the exhibition are taken from the book Vanishing Valletta, published in 2018, a sort of Maltese equivalent of the book Paris Perdu. Thirty original prints from this series are held in the permanent collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. The exhibition will present an equivalent number of selenium and/or gold-toned silver prints made by the photographer.
The Black Rose is the title of a publication consisting of a collection of anecdotes about Strait Street and The Gut and including a limited edition print.
David Pisani’s photographic work can be summed up as a relentless pursuit of the sublime and the erotic.
His earliest works (c. 1980’s) already showed a deep concern with the representation of the human body, the erotic nature of places and objects as fetishism and the inevitable association to sexuality and death; themes which are consistently present in all his work.
The link between decay and architecture is most evident in his photographic essay on the city of Valletta and the red-light district of Strait Street entitled ‘Vanishing Valletta’ which was first exhibited in Paris in 1996 during the Biennale of photography: Mois de la Photo à Paris under the title “La Valette et le Grand Port – Portrait d’une Capitale Maritime”. In the year 2000 a selection of the Vanishing Valletta archive was included in the permanent collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Pisani has also produced photo essays on the city of Dubai, the conflict zones in Cyprus and the city of Kyoto in Japan.
In 1998 he confronted the theme of the human body with a more explicit treatment of the themes of decay and death and produced a seminal body of work entitled “EVERY-BODY” developing a unique photographic chemical process that causes the image to alter itself over time as does the human body that grows old, dies and decomposes.
He is a fanatical darkroom printer with more than 30 years experience in commercial and fine art printing.
David Pisani : The Black Rose
May 11 – June 25, 2023
Galerie Adrian Bondy
221 rue Saint-Jacques