New East Digital Archive

Welcome to Tirana: the Albanian capital through an analogue camera lens

Photographer and writer Alexander Williamson travelled to Albania in September 2015 to attend his brother’s wedding. The photographs taken during the trip with an analogue camera eventually became the series Land of the Eagles, an exploration of the urban centre and rural hinterlands of the Albanian capital, Tirana, and the country’s complex recent history. “Albania is rapidly transitioning from the late 20th century isolationist rule of Communist leader Enver Hoxa into a modern, neoliberal capitalist state,” Williamson explains. In his photographs, Soviet-era architecture is juxtaposed with religious symbols and the city and wilderness merge in the autumnal heat. While photographing Tirana, Williamson also explored his own feelings of belonging and estrangement. “The series title is taken from the name the Albanians gave to their country: Shqipëri, meaning ‘land of the eagles’. It also draws upon the Albanian writer Ismail Kadare’s observations about his homeland, and the exalted role of creators within its society: ‘The writer is always to some extent in exile, wherever he is, because he is somehow on the outside, separated from others; there is always a distance.’ We can extend the outsider status of the writer to that of the photographer. This distance is explored in these photographs: my brother’s recent marriage into a large Albanian family has instantaneously reshaped our family’s history,” Williamson says. “We have transitioned from guests to family, yet remain guests within the house of Albania, the Land of the Eagles — a beautiful and beguiling place.”