DANIEL MALKA INTERVIEWED BY THE NDG RACOON
The Daniel Malka Project
aims to create an international visual forum upon which children ages 7-15 will publish photographs they have taken of their own lives. So far there are 10 countries who have shown interest (Japan, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Columbia, Uganda, Kenya, Spain, and Romania), an exceptional group of volunteers, and an enormous lack of digital cameras for the young shutterbugs to use. Anyone willing to part with an old (or new) digital camera should either read this article, or scroll down to the bottom to find out where you can drop it off. A buck or two would also go a long way since this worthwhile project depends on private funding.
The origins and political philosophy of Montreal photographer Daniel Malka
Daniel grew up in Montreal in the Côte-des-Neiges, NDG area, attended Baron Byng High School in the mile-end area, and CEGEP in St-Laurent. He studied at Concordia University, and went to grad school in Sherbrooke, and is currently a professor of photography at Dawson College. What he remembers most about his childhood in Montreal is Expo 67, never locking car doors, playing hockey and soccer, and having friends from all walks of life. He also clearly recalls The War Measures act in 71.
What shocks him about today’s Montreal is the number of homeless and untreated mentally-ill in the streets. He sees the excesses of indirect taxes and budget spent on the police force as democratic dictatorship. Citing personal experience, he considers having to pay 700$ for a 54$ unpaid ticket to be a greedy abuse of power. He considers the services offered in exchange for our tax dollars to be scarcer than when he was growing up.
“We never waited 6 hours in a hospital or had no access to a family doctor. There is far more social injustice in today’s Montreal, and less freedom. An oppressed society only means there will be more criminality. ”
Daniel still sees Montreal as a peaceful city to live in, but thinks the recent social changes are definitely not for the best, and that people’s priorities are out of synch with reality.
“I don’t believe in building a pretty, white picket-fence in front of a house just to keep up appearances while everybody in the house is starving. I mean that for households, for sure, but I’m directing that more at governmental policies.”
Daniel is a second generation photographer.
His uncle is a photographer, as well as his world famous cousin Michel Malka. During childhood, he often had a camera in his hand, and learned how images had the power to tell stories and to spark his imagination. At the age of 15, upon discovering Tri-X film, and the magic and mystery of darkroom work, Daniel developed a more serious appreciation for photography.
“The power of capturing a moment and seeing it appear on a sheet of paper a few hours later… my darkroom was the floor of my small bedroom. It was the time of Jean Loup Sieff, Hiro, Avedon, Penn, Sarah Moon and so many other great photographers. It was the time of musical giants like Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Dylan, and Cohen.”
Daniel’s influences and inspiration came from his parents, who taught him about human values, determination, charity, love and social justice. Literature and music reinforced his parent’s guidance. He especially notes the works of Albert Camus, like, The Fall, L’Etranger, The Plague, which, from a young age opened his eyes to the fact
that not everything under the sun shines, and that the plague can hit us at any time.
“Beaudelaire, Flaubert and Rinbaud taught me how to be the romantic that I am.
Losing my parents at a young age taught me that life is too short not to do what I love.
As Camus says, to die is absurd in itself, so, to live without a purpose is even more so.”
That’s why he does what he loves, and loves what he does.
He expresses both the good and the bad conditions he perceives.
“I show the good, to unveil the beauty of human kind. But there needs to be balance in photography, just as in life, so I also show the bad to expose injustice and to create a change for the better.”
Why nomad-at-heart Daniel Malka stays in Montreal
Although he grew up in Montreal, and enjoys the part of NDG where he lives because it is “so real,” Daniel is a nomad at heart.
He has lived elsewhere for almost 17 years.
He spent 10 years in Madrid, and 7 years in Toronto.
He returned to Montreal to be with his daughter, and to attend art school, and he decided to stay because of friends, family, and mainly because of his divorce.
“I had to take care of my daughter who has lived with me for the last 7 years.
There are many things I like about Montreal, as well as many I don’t. Being away for so many years makes me aware of the enormous changes this town has undergone. It’s became a more modern and active city than it was during my youth. However, from the perspective of social conditions, things have gotten much worse.”
Daniel reiterates his feelings about priorities, both at the governmental and household level, where everyone is going into debt to present the appearance of financial success at the cost of long-term security, health, and freedom. He believes that excessive debt leads to levels of intolerable stress that puts the well-being of everyone, especially our future generations, at dire risk.
“That might be a problem with North America in general – the race to compete at any cost. Sure it all looks great from the outside, but I don’t believe this is working anymore.
I’ve traveled enough to learn what corruption is. Here it is tacit – silent and underlying, because no one talks about it, or if they do, they kind of smile nervously like that’s just the way it’s supposed to be, as if just because people seem to be in the same boat, everything is normal. Sometimes people complain, but no one seems to make any important moves.”
Daniel explains that in Latin America, people know about corruption because it’s obvious and it’s part of their daily lives. However people do go to jail for it, unlike here where it is entrenched at almost every political level, and people seem to be more accepting of it as cost for our way of life.
“Heh. After all, freedom always carries a price…but it’s well worth it.
Unfortunately destiny and life sometimes tells you differently.”
Daniel Malka: professional photographer
For Daniel, photography is a way of life. He instructs his students to dream, sleep, and breathe photography. He considers it the most powerful storytelling device ever created.
“No wonder there is a belief that certain cultures think that a photograph steals a piece of your soul. In a way it’s true. You can immortalize an instant of someone’s life, and that, to me, seems to be the same thing. And with today’s technology, you can get that story out there in seconds.”
Being a freelancer all his life hasn’t been easy. However, photography has allowed him to live, and has elevated him in his darkest moments. It has been his most faithful companion (besides his dog Mona). Daniel has gotten paid substantially to play with what he refers as his “toys,” though he has never technically considered his art to be “work.”
“My first paying photos were for Les Grands Ballet Canadiens.
I was studying Science at the time, working part-time selling cameras…man, every penny I made went back into photography.
I fell in love with the power of telling a story in a fraction of a second, immortalizing time.”
He has taken award-winning photos on two continents, and has had them published on three. His most lucrative ventures have been during contracts for ad agencies, but what he loves most is being spending time with the people.
“I’ve met so many outstanding people through photography. It gives you the ability to connect with your surroundings in a very unique way. And because, as I always say, an image never lies, you know right away who is the good guy and who is the scum bag when you look through the view finder.”
Although I interrupt here to mention various visual deceptions perpetrated by the media, Daniel promptly corrects me. He is not referring to image manipulation. He is talking about photography in its purest form.
“It’s a tool that tells the truth, and should be used to share the beauty in this world whenever and wherever you find it. No, I am no surgeon. I use the tool bluntly and honestly to expose the good and the bad. I am even more passionate today than when I was a teenager. Some people hate me for it, but quite frankly I don’t care, because the ones that do are usually mediocre, maybe not always technically, but in relation to revealing raw emotion. I don’t believe in life without passion. It’s like making love by appointment.”
Daniel loves everything that has to do with photography. Teaching it has been an enlightening element in his life; sharing all of his knowledge and inspiring others is the most gratifying experience as he gets to witness people growing into photographers with his guidance.
“Photography is no different than life. There are decisive moments where you have to choose where you want to go, just like the instant when you decide to press that shutter button. I try to find the passion in my students as well as help develop their creative instincts. Photography is about people, passion, love, simplicity, humanism, and freedom of expression. Most of all, it’s about freedom itself. The professional aspect is a bonus.”
The Daniel Malka Photo Project
“The Daniel Malka Photo Project is the sum of all my experiences, emotions, and greatest beliefs about humanity’s capacity for love, compassion and sharing. Before becoming a photographer, I wanted to be a pediatrician. Children are natural fighters. They have a pure, untamed vision of their surroundings. They love and trust unconditionally…that is until they are hurt, of course. Kids are the most vulnerable in any society, and should be protected from anyone who uses them to satisfy greed or obtain power.
“The project is challenging in the sense that it is addressed to children from ages 7 to 15. We’d like to begin them at 5, but we’ll have to see about the logistics of that. The kids involved will be diverse. From the hidden and forgotten indigenous people of Latin America to the child soldiers in Africa, we want to give them all the tools to document their experiences from the inside out as opposed than the outside in. I believe that helping develop creativity in these kids would give rise to positive critical thinking skills. Also, they will have a tool to be more sensitive, united, and be seen by the rest of the world. Greater exposure would minimize their roles as targets of injustice, war, and delinquency.
“The project will stay alive thanks to photographers who will get on-site training to continue the project. Our team of photographic journalists wants to help change these children’s lives by providing their voices a visual forum. We’re all volunteers who have agreed that every penny raised must be spent directly on the kids.
“The idea is to teach photography, and to design specific assignments based on their needs and problems. They will document and photograph their lives and gain exposure in galleries around the world, and online. This should generate more awareness about the often overlooked conditions of these children, and generate more support for all NGOs. Of course there is a lot to do in Canada as well, and our team will start work here soon.