Temporary exhibitions

Eastern Front photographs, 1914-1918

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Visit the Mémorial museum to discover 100 exceptional photos taken by the Janaki siblings and Milton Manaki before, during and after the first world war on the Eastern front.

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 took up photography in 1898 in Ioannina, where Janaki ran a studio while teaching art in a Romanian school. He continued this job throughout his career.


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


A year later, Janaki won a scholarship from King Carol the First of Romania, which he used to travel throughout Europe and bought his first Bioscope 300 film camera from Charles Urban & Co in London. They began to record local life scenes, including 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.


Their photographic work

Janaki first learned photography during his studies in Bitola. Despite the brothers’ international fame for their films, their main activity remained photography.

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

Their work was considered as valuable, exceptional and historical testimony, as the Manaki brothers captured both political and institutional events, such as the visit of Sultan Muhammad V Reshad to Bitola, or the funeral of the Metropolitan Emilianos. However, simple daily life scenes were immortalized 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. They worked with sharp intuition on political and historical issues of the Balkans. Between 1898 and 1912, both multi-mingual and speaking the Balkan languages, they travelled the peninsular and took many photographs in 78 different locations, of which only 1839 examples have been saved. It was a genunine feat, in light of travelling conditions and the insecurity of the time, which forced photographers to work generally in the studio. Descended from an ethnic minority, they began working by exploring their own community. In 1907, Janaki published "The ethnographic Macedonian-Romanian album" in Paris. Nevertheless, even though the two brothers always considered themselves to be Aromanians, their identity had never been basis for their business. What also determined their professional careers and their lives was the disruption in the Balkan region. They witnessed the turmoil of the Balkans in the early 20th century: the Macedonian independence campaigns such as the 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.


Bitola and the war

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

There were many consulates in the city. Moreover, Bitola was a colourful mosaic of populations: in 1916, of 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), was taken by the Bulgarians with the help of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. Later in 1916, the Allies (Serbian, French, and English) succeeded in re-capturing the city through victories in the surroundings and on the slopes of Kajmakčalan. The front remained stable, passing a few kilometres from there to the final breach by the Allies to the north, on September 18th, 1918 starting with the Battle of Dobro Polje.

The First World War was a minor aspect of the Manaki brothers’ work. Indeed, for the residents of Bitola, it was simply another conflict among in a long series, a suffering amongst 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. Robert Jankuloski, director of the Macedonian Centre for Photography, began to explore the Manaki brothers’ work in the early 2000s.


Portrait photos

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

Being neutral, they welcomed a variety of opponents to take their portrait. Along the front line, soldiers from both sides stopped by their home studio. The diversity of the Manaki brothers’ work retells the lives of people who went there. And these rarities that can be admired at the Caen Memorial in early 2016 also adorn the museum 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 restore the memory of the French soldiers of the East and put a face on them, about which Albert London said: "Be kind to the Eastern Army, who bitten by mosquitoes, fight in a country where passers-by do not decipher the letters of their epitaphs".

After the war, the Manaki brothers travelled throughout the Balkans with their camera. They opened a 573-seat cinema in 1923 in Bitola and broadcast the most important films of the era. It was destroyed by fire in 1939. The Second World War separated them, leaving Janaki to live in Thessaloniki as a Greek citizen, while Milton remainsed in Bitola and became a Yugoslav citizen. Janaki died in poverty and oblivion in 1954, while Milton remained honoured by the Yugoslav rulers of the young federal republic until his death in 1964.

Before disappearing, Milton entrusted the brothers’ photographs to the Macedonian archives: nearly 10,000 glass plates and 8,000 negatives. This treasure languished in obscurity for decades. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, interest grew in the their symbolic work  once again. The Balkan region was again shaken by nationalism and conflicts, while the brothers’ heritage was soon to be claimed by all countries of the region, from Greece to Romania. And even today, Greece, Macedonia, Albania and Turkey all lay claim to it, 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 found consensus.

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