The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

Diary by JANETTE DANEL: ‘Luigi’ & I ... the story of a book

Tuesday, 18 January 2022, 09:49 Last update: about 5 months ago

JANETTE DANEL, is a Dutch Art historian and former gallerist. Born on a houseboat in Amsterdam, Janette's family often relocated within Europe during her youth, resulting in her attending 12 schools. This unusual start to her education gave her a curious eye and a questioning mind. In 2016 she bought a house in Senglea, and spent the next three years renovating the property. Whenever she gave herself a day off from work, she found great pleasure in jumping into her car, pulling back the roof, turning up the music and exploring the island. Here she writes about a photographic project completed during the pandemic.

"Combining my love for art and my need to travel, my wanderlust has taken me around the globe. Finishing my studies of Art History at the Leiden University, Holland, I quickly moved to London to work for one of the major auction houses.  Later I established galleries in Hong Kong, Singapore, London and Paris and created big photographic art fairs in Paris and Brussels. Having worked with so many big photographers organizing photo exhibitions all over the world and winning many prizes with them, I never dared to show my own 'views' . Even if at the young age of seven, I had taken my father's Kodak camera and never stopped taking photographs, it's a totally different perspective of it all to dare to show one's own work.


Packing up my home in Paris to avoid the empty nest syndrome, I pursued the  passion of my youth to go sailing for a couple of years. I sailed many seas including the Trans Atlantic and the South Pacific.  On one of my sailing races, I participated in the 'Bailli de Suffren', which races from St Tropez to Valletta. With too much wind upon arrival we got some extra time to visit Malta and I became intrigued. Years later after participating in the Middlesea race, one way or another, I ended up buying a beautiful house to restore in Senglea in 2016. 

The idea for this photographic series to include the mirror and part of the car, came to me whilst driving my 2cv, a 'Dolly' (1977), from the South of France to my new home here in Malta. I named the car 'Luigi' because that was the name of the previous owner and I also thought it would be more fun to travel with a male companion. 'Luigi' has been an exceptional cohort; we must have driven 20, 000 km together, through Malta, Sicily, Italy, the South of France, and all that with a tent in the back.

At the exhibition "Sea She Sees" which I organized at the Maritime Museum Birgu, 2018, there was no budget and the artists thought it a good idea for me to add on my own photographs. The exhibition generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm and so did my photos and I was inspired to expand the project into a book. 

My exploits started to take on a more focussed approach during the pandemic, as I sought to produce a body of work that was both arresting and at the same time, encapsulated all that is unique about the Maltese islands. The photographs were taken throughout all of Malta and Gozo with the intention of illustrating my deep engagement with the landscape and the culture of the islands, as I sought to make Malta my home.

I was happy to find that by including an element of my car 'Luigi', I was able to communicate a more personal and immediate insight into my travels. I have purposely avoided taking picture perfect 'postcard' images. My parents would often advise me to see life from all angles. Apart from being a fun way to work with 'Luigi', the discipline of looking at framing my photographs from different viewpoints opened my mind to the richness of my subject matter; the beauty, vegetation diversity and complex history of Malta.

Luigi's compact form proved helpful, but the tight and twisty roads were often a challenge. Maneuvering 'Luigi' into position within awkward places was often tricky, often not possible and I have to admit to annoying other drivers when I obstructed many a traffic flow. Mostly, however people were very patient with my exploits and amused by my persistence.

This is the first body of work I dare to share... I hope you will enjoy this project and book as much as I have doing it and that it will inspire many to maintain the Maltese Islands as beautiful as they are.

This series is conceived and edited by Marie Benoît who contributes her own Diary occasionally. [email protected]

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