Temporary exhibitions

Eastern Front photographs, 1914-1918

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Discover at the Mémorial museum 100 exceptional photos shot prior, during and after the first war on the Eastern front by the Janaki siblings and Milton Manaki.

The Manaki brothers

Janaki and Milton Manaki were born in 1878 and 1882 in Avdella, a village of Epirus, today in Greece.

Originating from a wealthy family of an Aromanian minority (Vlach, Romanian-speaking) within the Ottoman Empire, they take up photography in 1898 in Ioannina, where Janaki develops a studio while teaching art in a Romanian school. He holds this job throughout his career.

 

In 1905, both brothers go to Bitola (called Monastir at the time) where they open a "photographic art studio" in the street of Shirok Sokak.

 

A year later, Janaki receives a scholarship from the King Carol the 1stof Romania, which he uses for travelling throughout Europe, when he buys his first Bioscope 300 film camera from Charles Urban & Co in London. They begin to record local life scenes including those from their grandmother spinning and weaving wool, known as the first film ever shot in the Balkans. This is how they got their nickname "The Lumière Brothers of the Balkans". These pioneers gave their name to many cinemas and to the international festival that honours them, which is held annually in Bitola.

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Their photographic work

Janaki is the one who first learns the photography during his studies in Bitola. Despite the brothers’ international fame for their films, their main activity was the photography.

They begin doing photography with a Kodak large format camera (18 X 24), purchased in Paris. Over the course of their career they become the official photographers of the kings of Romania, the Ottoman Empire and Serbia.

 

Their work is considered as valuable, exceptional and historical testimony, as the Manaki brothers seize both political and institutional events, such as the visit of Sultan Muhammad V Reshad in Bitola, or the funeral of the Metropolitan Emilianos. However, daily life scenes are caught, as well.

 

Due to the fact that even the Manaki brothers described their work as "artistic photography", the ethnographic aspect of their work is also fundamental. In addition, they work with an extreme intuition about political and historical issues of the Balkans. Both polyglot and speaking the Balkan languages, between 1898 and 1912, they take a lot of photographs in 78 places of the peninsula, from which only 1839 photographs have been saved. It’s a true performance, since we are aware of the transportation conditions or the insecurity at the time, which forced photographers to work generally in the studio. Descended from a minority, they begin working by exploring their own community. In 1907, Janaki prints "The ethnographic Macedonian-Romanian album" in Paris. Nevertheless, even though the two brothers always considered themselves as Aromanians, their identity had never been a hobbyhorse. What determined their professional careers and their lives, as well, is the Balkan turmoil. They witness the turmoil of the Balkans in the early 20th century: the Macedonian autonomous revolts, as Ilinden uprising in 1903 and the Ottoman retaliation, the Balkan wars against the Ottoman Empire, then the war between Bulgarians and Serbs, and the Eastern front of the First World War.

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Bitola and the war

The Manaki Brothers arrive in Bitola (at the time Monastir) in 1905, which was then an economic and cultural center of the Ottoman Empire...

There were many consulates. Moreover, Bitola was then a mosaic of peoples: in 1916, among 35,000 people, 7000 were Vlachs, 10,000 Slavic Macedonians, 1300 Albanians, 12,000 Turks, 5,000 Jews and 500 Roma.

At the beginning of the Great War, Monastir (at the time Serbian), is taken by the Bulgarians with the help of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Later in 1916, the Allies (Serbian, French, and English) succeed to take it back thanks to the victories around the town and on the slopes of Kajmakčalan. The front remains stable, passing a few kilometres from there to the ultimate breakthrough to the north of the Allies, on September 18th, 1918 starting with the Battle of Dobro Polje.

The First War was a neglecting aspect of the Manaki brothers’ work. Indeed, for the residents of Bitola, it was only a conflict among others, only a suffering among many others in times when they concealed so much. But after a century of neglect, buried in a collection archive in Bitola for decades, exceptional photographs of this period reappeared. It was Robert Jankuloski, director of the Macedonian Centre for Photography, who began to explore the Manaki brothers’ in the early 2000s.

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Portrait photos

The Manaki brothers continue to work despite the battles and the destruction of their studio. They immortalize battles, moments of everyday life (weddings, religious ceremonies, markets and fairs)...

Neutral, they welcome the various belligerents to do their portrait. Along the front line, soldiers from both sides stop by their home. Thanks to the diversity of the captures, the Manaki brothers’ work retells the lives of people who went there. And these rarities that can be admired at the Caen Memorial in the beginning of 2016 also adorn the museum premises of the French cemetery in Bitola.

A great deal of the Manaki brothers’ work is still unexplored. We assume that their work will contribute at any rate to rehabilitate the memory of the French soldiers of the East, and give a face to the soldiers, on which Albert London said: "Be kind to the Eastern Army, who, bitten by mosquitoes, fight in a country where passersby do not decipher the letters of their epitaphs".

After the war, the Manaki brothers travel throughout the Balkans with their camera. They open a cinema in 1923 in Bitola (573 seats!) and they broadcast the most important films of the era. It was destroyed by fire in 1939. The Second World War separates them, leaving Janaki to live in Thessaloniki, as a Greek citizen, while Milton remains in Bitola and becomes a Yugoslav citizen. Janaki dies in poverty and oblivion in 1954, while Milton is constantly honoured by the Yugoslav rule of the young federal republic until his death in 1964.

Before disappearing, Milton entrusts the brothers’ photographs in the Macedonian archives: nearly 10,000 glass plates and 8000 photo negatives. This treasure languished in obscurity for decades. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, their symbolic work becomes interesting once again. The Balkans is shaken again by nationalism and conflicts, while the brothers’ inheritance is soon to be claimed by all countries of the region from Greece to Romania. And even today, Greece, Macedonia, Albania and Turkey claim it at the same time, sometimes even leading to severe quarrels. In any case the Manaki brothers can be considered as Europeans, even before the term was coined, or at least as important people of the Balkan culture, since they witnessed the history and culture of Turkey, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania and the Balkan Jews and Roma. Their recognition would have been even greater if their contribution to the Balkan culture, in general, had a consensus ...

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