Rubin Mandija: Pictorialism in some photographs of Kolë Idromeno


Kolë Idromeno is one of the most distinguished figures of Albanian art. His contribution is remarkable in painting, architecture, scenography, photography etc. While his achievements especially in painting have been well promulgated in many publications, his creativity as a photographer, albeit acknowledged, is not thoroughly studied yet. His being a painter would no doubt influence his photographic approach. Since painting himself the backgrounds for his studio and up to the manipulations in the printing process, he would be among those painter-photographers of the first decades of photography. He was one of the first painters in Albania to experiment with impressionist painting(1), and pictorial attributes can be observed in some of his photographs. In this article, I try to treat some crucial traits in his approach toward the “pictorial” photography.

Keywords: photography, art, art history, Albanian art, pictorial

Nikolla Arsen Idromeno, commonly known as Kolë Idromeno, was born in Shkodra on August 15, 1860.(2) His father Arsen was an immigrant from Parga. At an early age he begins his apprenticeship in the studio of Marubbi, the father of Albanian photography.(3) Here the young Idromeno takes lessons of painting. Except the painting and drawing lessons, in the Marubbi studio he is introduced to the new mysterious profession by the name of photographer. Incouraged by Pietro, at only 15 years old he embarks for Venice to enroll at the Academy of Arts. After only six months, for unclear reasons, he quits the Academy. Working for a local painter he stays in Venice two more years and then comes back home. In Shkodra he is engaged mainly as a painter and architect. Some of the most emblematic buildings of Shkodra bear his signature as architect. As a painter he is an authority in his city and country as well. While painting religious commissions and laic paintings, he is a reference for the fellow painters of the era. Idromeno opens his own photographic studio in Shkodër in 1886(4).
Working on my doctoral thesis on the photography of this author I had the privileged opportunity to search in the archive of QSA (Center for Albanalogical Studies) in Tirana. 1285 negatives of Kolë Idromeno are registered in this archive. This represents the bulk of his photographic work that has survived till today. About 150 more negatives are preserved in the Marubi National Museum of Photography in Shkodra. Currently there are no data for other negatives in other public or private domains. Except for very few exemplars, most of this legacy has never been shown for the public. It also has not been thoroughly studied in terms of an artistic heritage. As a matter of fact, during the communist period (1945-1990), most of Albanian photographic archives were mostly utilized for historic or ethnographic purposes. After the 90’ there has been a surge in the artistic valor of these archives. Foreign and Albanian researchers have “assaulted” these archives. Many albums of the Marubi dynasty have been published for example. Unfortunately no original register of photographs has survived. We do not know if Idromeno kept one at all. In the earlier years, given the wet collodion process, where the same glass was used for different photographs, such registration did not even had a sense. But again in the latter period, when gelatin plates were kept permanently, we still don’t have an artist’s registry.

[1] Hudhri, Ferid, “Arti i Rilindjes Shqiptare”, Onufri, Tiranë, 2000 p. 65
[2] Prenushi, Mikel “Kolë Idromeno” Tiranë 1984 p. 13 Note: all data relevant to the life of Idromeno are extracted from this monograph, except when otherwise stated.
[3] Pietro Marubbi was a political emigrant from Italy. After travelling in different Albanian cities (Albania being then part of the Ottoman Empire), he settled himself in Shkodra. In 1856 he established here the “Dritëshkronja (light-writing) Marubbi”, the first photographic studio in Albanian lands. He was also the teacher of a generation of photographers who opened their own photographic businesses after following apprenticeship to the Marubbi. He was also a painter. More on this topic see Paci, Zef “Marubi, Photography as ritual” Princi, Tiranë 2012 pp. 126-7
[4] Paci, Zef “Marubi, Photography as ritual” Princi, Tiranë 2012 p. 125

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