Concresco by David Galjaard designed by Katie McGonigal – winner First PhotoBook category, Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards 2012. Coming soon: Interview with Anders Petersen Best PhotoBook of the Year

dummy number 3 CONCRESCO

third dummy CONCRESCO

CONCRESCO by Dutch photographer David Galjaard (DG) is awarded 10.000,00 USD in the First Photobook  category, by Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards 2012. It’s Galjaards first photobook and self published. A plane publication, looking like a stretched cash book, 5 cm taller than A4, a little wider. A communist red cover with flaps, Swiss binding, embossing on the front cover shaping the contours of the map of Albania. An elongated country, no larger than Belgium, striving to become a member state of the EU. CONCRESCO was launched in a bunker at Scheveningen in April 2012. Texts from the essay ‘the pillbox effect’ by Slavenka Drakulić were painted on the rough humid walls. Still lives of clothes, plastic flowers, garbage found by Galjaard in bunkers in Albania (called pill boxes in English), were projected on the damp floor. CONCRESCO is also awarded the Porfolio Prize in Dublin. In 2013, for the next edition of PhotoIreland Festival, David will curate an exhibition based on his book project. Galjaard has studied documentary photography at the KABK in The Hague (2002-2006). His professional career started out making a column for daily paper NRC-Next. He was commissioned to make still-life photography for a culinary page and received various assignments: portraits, series. The still life genre was an awkward territory, not fitting, but somehow brought him his first job: a column. Throughout the job, and on the pay-roll, he slowly defined his own style. He got carte blanche from the, then, brand new tabloid. From 15 years on David had made documentaries, was socially engaged, working full frame (24x36mm) in black and white, always right on top of his subject, inspired by – who else  but –  Ed van der Elsken. As soon as David left the Art Academy and started to work for NRC-Next, he abandoned this approach, switched to large negative film (6×6 and 6×7) and in color. DG:

After three years I either wanted to be enrolled in a Master programme or start a long-term documentary research project. This was in 2009. In 2006 I took a distance from the idea that people in pictures were carrying the storyline. From there on the focus is on space, as in a room or a landscape. A first series was entitled ‘When the Siren Goes’. Stemming from the idea, where would I go when the air-raid sirens, to warn the population, will go off? Not on the first Monday of the month, as usually is the case in the Netherlands, but, let’s say, on a Wednesday? A friend of mine studied Art and Science at the KABK. He did a performance in a shelter. He told me this is a space you should see. I took my Hasselblad and went. A  two-year project was launched: making a series on underground shelters in the Netherlands. In The Hague I photographed the shelter where the minister president, in case of an atomic attack, is hiding and speak to the people. These shelters exist since the Cold War. A few years ago the municipalities in Holland got the opportunity to update the status of their shelter, like supplies and such. And that’s it, because today the parlement considers, due to state-of-the-art military strategies and weapons, taking shelter not optional anymore. Nowadays the shelters are used for computer data storage, or have been dismantled.



MT: Please elaborate on the relationship between this work in progress, on Cold War bunkers in the Netherlands, and CONCRESCO.

Most obvious is the fact that both projects deal with documenting bunkers. But that’s not what counts for me. Regarding the shelters in the Netherlands, I was conducting research on the ‘raison d’être’ of a space. CONCRESCO however, documents the development index of Albania, since the fall of Communism. As in the standard of living and quality of life of the people living in that country. At the end of 2008, winding down the series on Cold War bunkers in the Netherlands, a journalist of NRC-Handelsblad pointed out to me how prominent bunkers are in Albania. I started to read about the communist history of Albania, I had never been there. I learned the Stalinist dictator Enver Hoxha had built 700.000 to 1.000.000 overhead bunkers. Difficult to imagine, it triggered me. My first trip took place in March 2009. The intention was to find out what the consequences of these bunkers are for the Albanian landscape. And what does it mean for its people, their collective memory, to be continuously triggered by these pill boxes, being reminded of their fierce dictatorial past. On location, I realized in urban areas most of the bunkers had disappeared, they have been demolished. A younger generation is not even aware of the presence of these historical sites. They know some of the history through their parents. One picture stood out for me, incorporating the Albanian history:  a fence built right on top of a bunker. For me it is a symbolic image: the bunker is not removed, the fence not built around it. This image represents a feeling of perseverance, and strength. This image was the eye-opener for a new dimension in the project. In October 2009 I went back, intending to use the bunkers as a metaphor, as a guidance, for documenting a country in transition. I also knew then I wanted to make a photobook.  Eventually, in the sequencing of images, in the editing, three chapters are have been developed. People living along the remains of Albanian history,  reusing the bunkers, demolishing them. Along with a ‘hitlist’ in a notebook I started to work. Not in order of importance: ‘a bunker on a building site’; ‘ a bunker in new urban areas’; ‘bunkers with graffiti’; ‘showing military structures of concrete and steel’; ‘as object used for every conceivable function’; ‘traces of human presence’. In terms of content, I wanted to find out which cultural context, what kind of feeling a space expresses and how I interpet that myself. Slowly, people entered into my pictures again, complementing the space I photographed.

Dummy number 3 CONCRESCO

third dummy CONCRESCO

MT: Why this conviction to self-publish photobooks? 

I was convinced that I wanted to work without simply making concessions. No other obstructions then technical ones. This was also the deal with my graphic designer, my girl friend Katie McGonical: payement for the assignment was optional, in exchange for not making any concessions.

MT: Since being awarded the First Book Prize 2012 at Paris Photo, self-publishing, I imagine, is similar to being a tradesman: the administration, the packaging, the distribution?

Self-publishing means being everything except a ‘photographer’. A very instructive experience… Doing public relations, editing, co-designing, dealing with printers, getting knowledgeable about types of paper and ink…

MT: What production costs were involved in making CONCRESCO?

I have no idea. Production costs have risen considerably. Revisions were required. Still, I wanted to keep the selling price low. 78 special editions are hand-made, with a profit margin. Before the nomination in Paris, 50% of the books had already been sold. One of the ways to raise money was crowd funding, using my own network: by subscription and pre-order 100 people received a stamped and numbered copy for a reduced price. A photobook has an expiration date of one year. After that, everything starts a new: the cycle of festivals, art book fairs.

MT: What does the title CONCRESCO refer to?

The term ‘CONCRETE’ is derived from the words in Latin CON (cum) and CRESCO (crescere) , the translation of respectively: ‘together’ and ‘to grow’. Merging both, it means: ‘taking shape’, ‘becoming strong’. The significance of the word CONCRESCO reflects everything that has to do with Albania. The concrete bunkers, its reconstruction, together with the past ahead…

MT: On the inside cover flap an archival document is printed. Where did you find it? What is actually  shown?

On my last trip I visited archives in Albania, looking for historical documents regarding bunkers: photographs, construction drawings, films. The result was negative. In those days bunkerisation was state secret material. Strangely enough, in view of the fact that citizens were all put to work building bunkers by hand thoughout Albania. Eventually, in military archives, construction drawings, like this one, were shown to me. It’s a construction drawing seen from above, showing the position of the bunkers, as well as the shooting direction and what area would be covered by a row of five bunkers. A new row would be built to cover a next section, till the country was entirely bunkerized. Along the coastline, on the borders, you may find most bunkers. All embrasures are directed towards the borders.

Dummy number 2 CONCRESCO

second dummy CONCRESCO

MT: Katie McGonigal is the graphic designer of CONCRESCO. Tell me about the collaboration and the choices made: the binding, the embossed cover. 

Shelter (2010) by Henk Wildschut was an inspiration. The format and the ‘open spine’ showing the separate quires and the strings give the book a rough edge. Although we faced different book technical problems and used different kinds of paper (Hello matt). Katie is my girl friend, and graphic designer of my first book. I did most of the editing, sequencing, Katie is responsable for the design and typography. Because we were so intertwined, a lot of cross-overs occurred; the interaction was intensive.

Dummy number 2 CONCRESCO

second dummy CONCRESCO


It’s a Swiss binding. All photographs in the book, except for one, are full spreads. It was important to be able to open the book without sections of images disappearing in the binding seam. For this reason we eventually had chosen a ‘open spine’. Realising this option was at the expense of the strength, we decided to use Swiss binding. The embossed cover consists of braille-like spheres, shaping the circumference of Albania. The small spheres are symbolic for the numerous bunkers in the Albanian landscape. The booklets within the book, wrapped around the quires (except for the one incorporated in a landscape, which is fit in the heart of the quire), are containing the interviews with Albanian people. The quires are sewed, together with the booklets, and the spine covered with white linen. The red paper cover is, like a jacket, covering the spine. The book has two different formats: the high ‘cash book’ format, avoiding the DIN A4 standard, and the booklets on thin paper, defining both the limited room between quires and the amount of glue applied between quires. Because of the bleeding pictures the format of the plane is similar to the size of the film negative 6:7. When folded, it delivers a striking narrow rectangle, very much like the land-shape of Albania. Both the format, the striking red colour and the embossed cover make it fit.

Dummy number 2 CONCRESCO

second dummy CONCRESCO

MT: ‘The Pillbox Effect’, what does the title of the essay mean, published in the book Cafe Europa. Life after Communism. A way of Forgetting? (1995), written by the noted Croatian writer Slavenka Drakulić? And how does the text relate to your photoworks? DG:

‘Pillbox’ is, as I explained, an English idiomatic expression for bunker. The article describes the impact of bunkers on the Albanian society. The text is written in 1994, three years after the fall of Communism. An engaged and personal vision statement on the country, on the bunkerisation, on the fall of Communsim. A status quo of Albania in 1994. Draculić, then for the first time in Albania, starts analysing the nature of the country in the aftermath of the Communist era. Which also explains why I asked Jaap Scholten, journalist/documentary filmmaker e.g. of the VPRO series Oostwaarts,  to write an essay on the status quo of Albania now. Scholten describes – based on a dummy of CONCRESCO – the positive results of the transition, the new enterprising spirit, and which ideological and historical traces are still visible. A new car wash, small shops, individualization of society: all signs of a positive development, according to Scholten. The poorest country of Europe is being Westernized. Realising that, Communist times in general, when daily life, art and science – in fact everything – was under state control, has made people apathic. Others are complaining about the loss of family ties, due to the new entrepeunarial mode. it’s a dilemma: a country coping with an identity crisis, with rapid changes. So two long narratives, which you could consider a ‘foreword’ and ‘afterword’, but in fact both are substantial contributions integrated in the book.

MT: What about the interviews with a retired construction worker, with professors, students and journalists in the booklets?

Martijn Payens, in those days a graduate student at the Bruxelles based Film Academy Rits made, together with his girlfriend and a friend also studying at Rits – he was the soundman, a documentary on bunkers in Albania: Mushrooms of Concrete (2010). And he asked me to help him find on site locations to film. He happened to travel with an interpreter. We made a deal: I would help him find suitable locations, he would make his interviews to my disposal. Myself, I have conducted interviews with a younger generation, all in English. His documentary was nominated for the  IDFA Student Prize 2011. One of my photographs was printed on his film poster and Katie designed the poster and invitations. I deliberately have integrated short texts in the book. In terms of graphic design the idea to put in text booklets opened up a whole variety of possibilities:  playing with text content and the underlying image. Like the photograph of bunkers in a serene landscape against a mountain range with peaks covered by eternal snow, is printed on top of the first booklet. Like a hidden history, unspoken. As soon as you open the booklet you enter the era of upcoming communism. At the same time, all bunkers depicted on the right page of the large spread are covered by the open booklet. In the text the upswing of the bunkerization plan is explained, illustrated with state propaganda film stills of massive parades in greater honour and glory of the communist leaders. I bought the copyrights from a filmarchive. What you see on this spread is history covering the present. The booklet is constructed as an anticlimax: You see the pictures in the booklet suggesting children, women, everyone, had to fight, was proud to construct bunkers, built up the patriotists’ country, being trained collectively to make bombs, learn how to shoot. In the back of the booklet two professors, both military commanders in chief,  are quoted: “we did a lot of training, but training is not the same as war”. Eventually, in this first booklet the suggestion is made a war took place, later on that notion is denied. it is all fake; there has been no war.  During the Hoxha era people were tortured severely, so far facts were not confirmed. In the documentary by Jaap Scholten a survivor of a Hoxha prisoners camp openly criticizes the regime. This is remarkable in itself, because a lot of the former communist Bobo’s are still in government.

map showing locations in Albania with handwritten notes by DAVID GALJAARD

map showing locations in Albania with hand written notes by DAVID GALJAARD

MT: You have this way of working ‘organically’: no strategies, crisscrossing the country. Where did you go? The pill boxes are found all over: at a tank station, in rural areas, in parks overgrown by ivy, carved in rocks. Which ones were the most outstanding? Where did you find the most exotic examples of re-used bunkers?

Religion was prohibited during the communist era. So churches were turned into sport centers, or into sheep cages. Bunkers, however, are mainly used to dump garbage, as public toilet and to cultivate mushrooms nowadays. More exotic are the cave bunkers transformed into a restaurant or into a home. Durres is the most popular seaside resort, one hour from Tirana. A lot of bunkers have been built here. At the same time new architectural building sites are intervening with the past. I did examine this coastal area thoroughly, because it is well bunkered. Once, with a tripod, a camera and headlights I crawled through the cave bunkers and felt something hitting my foot: it was a hand grenade. Fortunately, it happened to be teaching materials.

proof print CONCRESCO by David Galjaard


MT: The Albanian people are ready to become a member of EU, but are stuck with a, in the overall landscape, visible and remarkable legacy of a dictatorial past. Who is that man, the Stalinist leader Enver Hoxha (“his name almost sounds like an anagram of ‘xenophobia’ …”, writes Jaap Scholten)? Obsessed by power and afraid to lose it, he gave orders to construct 750.000 bunkers between 1945-1985. He also, deliberately, did not built or repair roads, not built an infrastructure, in order to isolate the entire country.

Hoxha was paranoia that his people would flee the country. Even people who went swimming too far out to sea, were shot, because they might, by chance, end up in Italy, was his fear. Albania was the most isolated country of Europe during the communist era. Hoxha consistently fed this fear for The Unknown, his xenophobia. He confirmed, by way of his bunkarisation plan, there was enough reason to expect an attack. Five centuries long Albania was integrated in the Ottoman Empire. Over time Albania has been attacked and over run by many neighbouring countries. Conquered by Fascist Italy during the First World War. Albania was de-stalinized under Khrushchev. Chinese leader Mao became his ally, who also financed mostly the bunkarization of Albania. Albania seceded from both big brothers, Khrushchev and Mao, but also from Tito in former Yugoslavia, with the result that the isolation of the country increased.

MT: Tell me about the prologue of the book. After 8 spreads we see the first bunkers, recognisable as such, in the landscape. What goes on before that? 

The book consists of two series: the landscapes and the still lives. The lather show the floors and walls of bunkers. I do not explain this approach any further, not in captions, nor in a photo index. The prologue had to be atmospheric, establishing the setting. The first spreads with still lives are referring to the advance and decline of communism.  You see clothing, wall paintings, graffiti, tires and plastic flowers on the floors of bunkers. You’re invited as a reader to find out about the sequencing, the ordering of images. Further on, I  confirm the conventional image of Albania through the media feeding frenzy. I mean the bad news items regarding a somber and scanty country. First you confirm that image, to refute that opinion subsequently. As soon as you reach the spread embedding the historical booklet, you enter a different Albania. Green meadows, snow peaks. The following pages show a pleasant country. The further you get into the book, the more information is provided to the reader; the more knowledge you gain. Along the way, your negative stigma of Albania will be altered. The political and social status of a country is not the way we think it is. You have to be curious, to go find out yourself how it might be different; to gain more insight. Albania is a split country. Now there is a democracy, but at the same time the country is dealing with a human capital flight: a brain drain. 50% of the population lives abroad. Of the 3,5 million inhabitants, 1 million lives in urban areas. The extreme absurdity of the dictatorship, and the twist of history in Albania, is made visible in CONCRESCO. It is an open-ended story, without prejudice, unfinished.

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