PHOTOGRAPHY AND FILM ACTIVITY

 

          The 19th century is important because various technical- technological inventions, which found implementation in art creation, were discovered. The French inventor and later a photographer Joseph Nieps makes the first photography in 1826, and his friend Louis Dager, using a special method, perfects the procedure of making photographs. That urged the need of commercialization of this activity and to start a mass production of such films. This resulted in construction of a machine, which makes much simpler, lighter and cheaper camera, known under the name of “ Kodak”, by George Eastman in 1888. The so-called roll-film required an easy photographic procedure which enabled a fast development of photographic activity. Consequently, instead of art portraying which was present by that time, the new technical miracle- photography and taking photographs, created in natural or artificial environment provide a true reproduction of visual information, whose originality depended on the skill, knowledge and creative fantasy of the author- the photographer. This marked the birth of yet another not only craft, but art activity as well.

         In the second half of 19th century photography comes to Macedonia. Among the first Macedonian photographers mentioned at that time was Hagi Koste from Veles, who in 1855, aside wall painter, started nourishing photographic activity. Soon after that, this activity started spreading in other Macedonian cities. A cultural center, such as Bitola at time, soon accepted that new activity. In the last decades of the previous century, but later as well, there were a lot of photographic studios in the city, such as those of Anastas Lozancev, which was considered to be one of the oldest in Bitola, then those of  Risto Kremele, Tegi Brothers, Manaki Brothers, Sotir Pinza, Linara, Janaki Papakoc, Toma Nacka, Shoku, Kostov and Moreno. Photographic activity, as a nice family tradition, is being continued in some of the families in Bitola even today.

         The last century will be remembered by another important event in human cultural life-establishing of the new art, seventh in a row, that is the film, whose precedent was photography. Our city had the honor in these wider Balkan areas to be a direct witness and a place where pioneer steps in the development of arts brought by the new time were made. Actually, during its very long existence, which stretches almost over one millennium, it was natural that not only fundamental spiritual values but those which were about to came to find a suitable creation ground here, where European consul glitter and charm were present and urged the necessity of photographic and film activity.

            When we talk about this part of the rich cultural history of our city, we should especially point out two activists. They are the brothers Janaki and Milton Manaki, famous photographers, cineastes and movie presenters. Very unlike their colleagues who accepted the challenge of visual art, unobtrusively and spontaneously, Manaki brothers left a strong mark of a certain time, in their style, with a manner of highly inventive creators. With the help of their photo and video camera for more then six decades, they managed to register many historical truths about Bitola and wider. Balkan areas from the last years of the previous century until the 60s of this one, thus succeeding to prevent their oblivion. Even their biography is a movie story in itself.

            Biographical data say that Janaki (1876-1960) and Milton (1882-1964) Manaki were born in small Vlak village Avdela near the town Grevena, Kostur. They came from a peasant family, which was mainly in the cattle breeding business. The house of grandpa Januli and grandma Despa was famous wider then Avdela. This tradition was carried on by their parents Dimitrie and Lusha. Later the father worked as a landlord and a merchant and the mother took care of the family life. Janaki and Milton especially loved their grandmother Despa, who used to tell them wonderful stories.

            The older brother Janaki, was a child with delicate physical health but very curious and with restless spirit. While at the village school he showed great interest in painting art and technique. He admired the icons and frescos in the nearby church and monasteries. In the school year 1890/91 he enrolled the Romanian Gymnasium (“Romanian Liceum” in Bitola and successfully graduated it in 1896/97. It was then that city became his “second” native place. With his diploma from Bitola he Shortly worked a a teacher in villages I mer and Chernes, and from 1899 to 1906 he worked as a calligraphy and art teacher in the Romanian Trade Gymnasium in Ianina. Meanwhile, he opened his own photo atelier here. In a historically unclear period, when the Vlak population was exposed to various propaganda and pressure, from the autumn 1906 Janaki was appointed a professor-maestro at calligraphy and art at primary classes at Romanian Gymnasium in Bitola. Since the time he worked in Ianina, the Manaki was reconsidering the idea to open a photo atelier in this city as well. They finally did that in 1895. Practically in both ateliers, Ianina and Bitola, he worked together with his brother Milton. Starting with his school years spent in Bitola, Janaki established a bond with the city, which never disappeared, but was constantly present. He formed a family here. It was after the death of his wife, in1935, when he together with his son, left for Thesaloniki where he stayed till the end of his life. It is considered that he died in 1960.

    As opposed from Janaki, his brother Milton was a completely different temper. The attempt of his parents, to persuade him to finish the Romanian Trade School in Ianina after finishing the primary school, had failed. After the second year he left the school. The same thing happened with the parents wish to learn the tailor or tinsmith craft in the nearby town of Grevena. The naughty childhood transformed into an open, youthful soul and heart, which enabled him to be loved among the girls and boys as a complete optimist, bohemian and chevalier, characteristics that he retained till the end of his life. However, one thing especially caught his attention – photography. The eighteen year old, strong, young Milton came to the newly opened photo atelier of Janaki in Ianina in July 1898. Starting from then the photography had become his life preoccupation, which in the forthcoming years would introduce to him a new world film activity. The natural gift for wide communication with people and mastering of photography craft almost to perfection, enabled Milton not only a solid existence but gave him reputation of a perspective young man in the field of the new, the seventh, art that was about to be born. Fortunately for our city, all this happened in the city of Bitola, which remained faithful to this artist until the end of his life.

    If we want to perceive the high values of the deed of Janaki and Milton Manaki brothers, then we have to look at the photography and film activity as a whole, as an inseparable creation activity. And one more thing – their significant work in most of it is connected to the cultural history of Bitola. And it was not a pure incident. Only in a famous cultural center, as this was, could an artistic activity of this kind have its place at the end of the previous and the first decade of this century. On the politically fervent Balkan the ordinary daily life was uncertain, not to mention the spiritual creativity. That it way, Manaki brothers even as early as the first years of the last decade of the previous century had close contacts with Bitola and its surroundings. In 1904 they bought a place on Shirok Sokak, on the 8th December the next year, they opened their famous atelier. The business started well. It was quite understandable that in a diplomatic city art photography was highly appreciated. New perspectives opened for them.

    The photographic activity of Manaki could be divided into several parts: Ianina, Bitola and Plovdiv period. This division is more technically conditioned. It is ungrateful to divide such an abundant activity as theirs into individual phases, especially if one has in mind that their work will be a matter of exploration for long. The photo atelier Janaki in Ianina was opened in 1898. The significance of this starting period in the new workshop of the brothers arises from the fact that they made the initial steps in discovering the filming technique, choice of materials, and dealing with technical problems. Janaki was a real master, and Milton was practical and very soon discovered all the secrets of this craft. About 370 negatives of different places and genres from this period have been preserved. They filmed almost everything: portraits, prominent people, folklore material, political events, customs, motifs of everyday life etc. There are also photographs of Bitola which reveals the fact that they were constantly in contact with the events taking place in the city and wider. So, in 1902, Dame Gruev was photographed in an atelier (theirs or someone else’s). Also the burnt Krushevo can been seen after the Ilinden Uprising; convicted – Ilinden activists on their way to exile at the railway station in Bitola (1904). All these materials are primarily of documentary value in more scientific disciplines.

            Manaki brothers had their richest and longest photographic activity during the Bitola period. Their atelier in Bitola was active over six decades: From 1905 (maybe even earlier) to 1964, with an interruption between 1916-1918. They were direct witnesses of key historical events which influenced the history of European people as well: Consule period, Ilinden events, the destruction of one time powerful Ottoman Empire and Young Turk Revolution, Balkan Wars and division of Macedonia, World War I and devastating bombing of Bitola, economic crisis in the 30s of this century, World War II, National Liberation War, post-war development of Macedonia, as well as many other events. This enables to view this period through a number of complete chronological periods, which most often coincide with the already mentioned historical events.

            Plovdiv period comprises only one part of the photographic work of Janaki Manaki when he was to Plovdiv by Bulgaria military authorities during World War I in Bitola He stayed there from the middle of 1916 to the beginning of 1919. He opened a photo atelier there, where he mostly dedicated his attention to the genre of portrait. The documentary aspect was not of primary character. It is known so far that he made over 200 photographs here, which are characterized by highest photographic mastery. It should be pointed out that this period has been less explored.

             When making a resume of the complete photographic opus of Manaki brothers it can be said that it is very large. Namely, it is composed of thousands of photos and films. They were photographers and film makers at the same time.

            But, they did not stop there. The sophisticated taste for the original, modern and new in the creative expression enabled them to get to artistic achievements. For them the photography making was not a prosaic existentialism, but a true art orchestration of spirit, filled with in creative identity characteristic only for the true art that can be recognized in their work. What should be added here is the significant documentary value of this cultural heritage, which will be a matter of further valorization and estimation.

            Zealous explorers of photographic opus of Janaki and Milton Manaki had precisely notified that a fund of 18.513 photo units negatives has been preserved so far. Out of them: 7.715 glass plates in various formats; 2.087 plan-films; 8.711 roll-films, as well as 17.854 photographs. Of course, the further systematization reveals additional numbers and assumptions, depending on the need for their analysis.

            The film making activity of Manaki brothers assumes a special place in the rich cultural tradition of Bitola. It would have been impossible for the city to be a small European metropolis in the heart of the Balkan by the end of the 19th century, if what was happening on cultural plan in European centers had not been felt in this region. The case of appearing of the seventh art-the film, is the best illustration of that. On 28th December 1895, in Paris, brothers August and Louis Lumier made the initial film clips-the first-born in the new art. These two “miracle-workers” gave life to light, giving soul to black and white picture, which started moving in front of their amazed looks. The exhaled audience could not take their eyes of the magical and “live” pictures of the few documentary films. Very soon this new visual art spread throughout the world.

            These had been years when it was very fashionable in Bitola to follow European hits of cultural living. The discovery of Lumier brother was greatly discussed in elite halls in Bitola. The curious cultural clientele did not have to wait long to see the motion pictures. Only two years later (in 1897) short films were shown. They were produced in France and were brought and shown by some Italian couple.

            That year the graduate Janaki Manaki obtained his diploma as a teacher at Romanian Liceum, while the younger Manaki decided to take up some more serious learning the photo-graphic craft in his brother’s atelier in Ianina. Even though they worked there relatively well, they were more often on relation: Avdela-Bitola, but also: Istanbul, Bucharest, Budapest, Vienna, Paris etc. In these cities they saw the latest achievements in the field of visual art.

            An especially pleasant event in their work happened in 1905. Janaki went to London, where from the company “Charles Urban Trading”, he bought the 300th sample of the film camera from the series “Cinema”. It was later more popularly called “Camera 300”. For the Manaki brothers it initiated another professional temptation, but an artistic experience as well. The first filmed clips with this camera mark the beginnings of Macedonian cinematography. In this pioneering work Bitola was almost always in the focus of the attention in most of the film material made with this camera. According to the so far knowledge of film experts, “Camera 300” was not only the first one in Macedonia, but on the Balkan as well. That is yet another confirmation of the high renown of our city as a cultural center on the Balkan. The attempt of Janaki and Milton to take up another creating challenge, instigated by modern technique and technology, does not represent only a pure expression of their curiosity to penetrate deeper into the secrets of new art, but an esthetic need for natural continuation of that time work in photography. We could only imagine their feelings when the static clips got their “soul” and started moving. An immense new artistic space opened in front of them, space for creative engagement of their famous eloquence and mastery, where out of black and static they managed to make a festival of the light. This meant giving an opportunity to a rarely seen human nobility and film making skill to be in a constant search of the new and unknown. In the focus of their camera, aside the ordinary man, events and the world around them, many other individuals, who gave a mark to that time, were also present: statesman, kings, ministers, diplomats, military officers, revolutionaries etc.

            Viewed from a cinematography aspect, their first documentary films bear more marks (historical, ethnological, exploring etc.). That is why they are so important for cinematography.  The first documentary filmed that Manaki brothers shot was the one about their 114 year old grandmother Despa, in Avdela. In an interesting rural ambient we can see how women in the family used to make woolen products. It seems, they could not have chosen a better, more authentic and more interesting theme. Nothing needed fixing or adjusting. With a carefully set scene as a photography, it seems that the static camera did not miss a thing of the two film makers’ intention. It is considered that Janaki had the greatest merit for the values of this first film. Well educated, with a wide scope of artistic knowledge, he precisely knew what the value of this film was. Of course in the film making conditions of his time. Other films that date from this period are: “ A School in Open” , “ A Vlak Wedding”, “ Repression of the Macedonian People in Bitola” , “ The Celebration of St. Cyril and Methodius”, “ Macedonian Folk Dances”.

            The films shot during the period between 1908-1912 present a lot of historical events that happened in Bitola and wider in Macedonia. During the Young Turk Revolution, Bitola was one of the places, events which changed the history on the Balkan and wider. Cadres can be seen dating from 22th July 1908 showing Young Turk military units marching through the city led by the major Nijazi-bey. The next day there was a big defilee of all the social groups that supported Young Turks. Among them were a lot political prisoners, Macedonian revolutionary units from many towns of Macedonia. We can recognize: Shirok Sokak, Military Academy, Red Barracks, Devejani region etc. There are pictures of proclamation of the Constitution, presence of diplomatic representatives; welcoming of Macedonia units etc. This represents a wide picture of support of: huriet, adalet and musafet ( liberty, fraternity and equality).

            The events that followed in the next years could not be avoided by Manaki camera. Foreign delegations, celebrations funerals, celebration of holiday Vodici, the work of veterinary station etc. The most important film record is considered to be the welcoming of Sultan Mehmed V Reshad in Thesalonikki and Bitola(1911). Actually, there are many components that complete the film unity: Thesalonikki with the harbour, solemnly decorated ship, row of coaches, the train leaving for Bitola, arrival in Bitola, welcoming at the railway station, mounting a coach on the way to the City Hall, prayer in Isac Mosque, visit of Tumbe Kafe etc.          

            It is considered that during the Balkan Wars and World War I certain film material had been made, but their atelier was damaged with the bombing so most of that film material was destroyed. What remained are some records with no special value. After what happened with Janaki ( international in 1916) and his returning to Bitoa, Manaki brothers did not work with such an enthusiasm as it been the case in the previous period. They most frequently shot commercial documentary films, welcoming ceremonies, weddings, family orders etc. Right prior to the war, Janaki moved to Thesalonikki for good, while Milton mainly remained faithful to his photo camera. Milton kept this attitude towards film making activity after 1944, as well. He only made a few short documentary films. The last “documentary” has only 30m tape showing people in Bitola walking along Shirok Sokak seeing off some citizens who were victims in the disastrous earthquake that happened in Skopje in 1963.

            Manaki brothers’ cinematography work is of great value to Macedonian culture. About 40 titles of documentary films and reports have been kept so far. All this material was filmed on 1.463m film of 35mm. Milton filmed till the end of his life. He died on 5th March 1964 in Bitola.

            Simultaneously with the interest in photography and film activity, Manaki brothers were also engaged in cinema activities. They opened their first cinema, “Manaki” in 1921 as a summer opera-in cinema. They mainly showed short films of French production: “Napoleon Bonaparte”, “Stairs”, “Servent Daurus” etc. This activity had been developed in the city prior to this. The brothers Tasho and Kosta Chomu showed film as early as 1909. Also, between the two World wars other people were active in this field, such as : Lazar sorchev, Mitko Stojcev, Atanas Pema, Risto Zarde etc. The films were mostly shown in famous Bitola hotels: “Stark”, “Grand Hotel”, “America”, “Bosna” etc. Such competition forced Manaki brothers to open another cinema in the city center two years later. Old Bitola people even today talk about the films of that time: “Headless Riders” with Rudolph Valentino; “Lucrecia Borgia” with Lyana Hide etc. This Manakis cinema was built with joint capital. It functioned until 1939 when it was caught by fire and completely burnt down with all its equipment. That was the time of the huge economic crisis and immediately before the World War II. Janaki left Bitola. The “Manaki” cinema appeared to be unprofitable. Despite financial difficulties Milton was constantly with his photo camera. It, somehow, provided him certain existence. As far as the cinema was concerned, it could not be rebuilt. The new sound film required expensive equipment.

            This appears to be the end of their activity connected to the film. After the liberation he continued with his photographic activity, and occasionally he stood behind the good old “Camera 300” which, despite the new film  technique, never let him down. Meanwhile, Milton Manaki died on 6th March 1964 in Bitola. This marks the end of the life of these famous Bitola activists, who whit their art photography, film making and cinematography activity, left deep historical, artistic and cultural values, not only in Macedonian cinematography but wider.

Today, as a lasting memory and continuity of Manaki brothers’ activity, several film manifestations are held here, including the international Film CameraFestival “Manaki Brothers” which makes Bitola a film city. This interest for the seventh art among the citizens is increasing, even trough not always with the same intensity. In the cultural history of Bitola the film has been present for more then 100 years. During the second half the last century several cinemas functioned in the city: "Trudbenik”, “Partizan”, “Makedonija” and “Dom na kultura” meet the ambient and technical criteria of such standards. Bitola loves of this art have a chance to see the best achievements of cinematography here, as a proof of the significant place of film are in the cultural of Bitola today.