Locals of Tirana (1)This is the start of a series that I would love to continue as an ongoing project.

Through this project, I want to document “who is today part of the capital of Albania, Tirana, what are their dreams and aspirations and how things have changed in the past fifteen years”.

When I first thought about starting this project, I wanted to focus on those that are being more entrepreneurial and wanting to “drive their own destiny” and are taking things in their own hands rather than waiting from others or the government.

I have here various examples for e.g. “Nji Mar Nji Mrapsht” a shop that promotes ‘artistic creations’, ‘handmade or artisanal’ products. Two brothers that have opened one of the most active and growing bars and social clubs in Tirana, “Hemingway Bar”. A woman entrepreneur that has opened her own early years nursery in a local community, “Kopshti Tulipanet”. Or another creative mama entrepreneur that makes her own organic creams and skin products and has opened her own skincare shop “Soap Arcadia”.

However as the series is about the city of Tirana, it cannot ignore aspects of the built environment that is a significant factor in recent changes and developments of the city.

From an outsiders perspective the city might not seem very asymmetrical but from an insider’s perspective it has significantly outgrown its former boundaries from its communist past on many fronts: size and density, use of cars which was almost non-existent for 40 years before 1992, use of concrete massively that replaces every green space or local playground to give rise to grey concrete towers.

Another aspect of the city that cannot be forgotten is its retired population that is present in public spaces, boulevards and public benches spending time, in a similar way as before in communism (a welcomed sign of familiarity with the past).

Tirana is my hometown, where I was born and grew-up. The city was very different during my first 13 years of life as it was a communist country until 1992.

Since then it has been all change and the lifestyle of those that inhabit Tirana today, is all very different. This is a chronicle of the present, not the past, there are other accounts of the past available which make for interesting reading, especially when put next to each other.

This series tells the stories of those captured through the camera and what they told me on the day I took their photos.

Nji Mar, Nji Mrapsht shop

This young girl was a student of engineering, originally from Vlora but living in Tirana and also working part time in a shop that sells handmade and recycled items – Nji Mar, nji Mrapsht which is known by many locals in the area of Rruga e Durresit and Rruga e Kavajes.

Young girl working at unique, arts and crafts shop in Tirana

Hemingway Bar and Social Club Tirana

Hemingway Bar and social club in Tirana (Albania), a place of fine taste in interior decor and selection of drinks, with some very old bottles of rum as pointed out by the girl working at the bar there. It is also a place of live music and cultural excursion into the world of a great writer.

Young girl working at the bar of Hemingway Bar and Social Club, TiranaYoung girl at Hemingway Bar and Social Club, Tirana

Education and early years childcare

A lovely lady, the manager of the nursery “Tulips” in Tirana (near Rruga e Durresit), a woman entrepreneur who opened this nursery with a passion for children and their early years. My son spent three weeks there as a way to reinforce his Albanian and he was very warmly welcomed by her and her staff.

The owner of early years nursery "Tulips" in Tirana

Handmade organic skin products and care

Mama and entrepreneur!!! She makes beautiful handmade organic creams, knows tons about skin care, and has a beautiful personality. Her shop is Soap Arcadia and she is a very active member of Tirana’s green, creative and entrepreneur community.

Mama entrepreneur, owner of skincare brand "Soap Arcadia" in Tirana

Retired life and football fan

It is a common thing in Albania for “pensioners” to go to the “centre” of town and spend time there with their friends. I spoke to this man who told me a little bit about his story in the centre of Tirana (opposite is the National History Museum and its large scale socialist realist mosaic).

“I have spent 10 years in retirement, my wife died of cancer and went very quickly, bless her soul. I live with my son, he has a family and they look after me really well, I love my grandchildren and I come here every morning to spend some time outside. My wife and I used to love football and we would go to watch matches together, I miss her. For me now what matters is peace of mind as I don’t work, I don’t have any urgency in my day, it is a quiet life and I enjoy what i can”. Although a bit sad I love his dressing style and his strong personality.

A retired man sitting in a public bench in Tirana's historical centre

Reading together, a reading project for vulnerable Roma children

Part of the series “Locals of Tirana” is this set of photos I took during a reading project in Shkoze, to children from the Roma community. Shkoze is an area on the outskirts of Tirana and away from the fashionable centre of the city but these children are part of the cityscape as you can spot them sometimes begging in city centre, they are also part of Tirana, albeit often the “invisible ones”!

As all other children they also enjoy reading and had a great session with these volunteers who make time to read to them every week. “Reading Together: Shkoze” is the name of the project, they have a facebook page and are open to volunteers or donations. The lady who introduced me to this project is an English woman who lives and works between Tirana and Pristina that I knew through her book “The Rubbish Picker’s Wife”, an excellent book and a great introduction into her world of helping marginal communities of Roma and Ashkali on the outskirts of Prishtina, through education, Elizabeth Gowing. She has written four other books and is also a very active member of the charities, cultural and writing community of Tirana.

Girl from the Roma community outside Tirana, in a reading projectGirl from the Roma community outside Tirana, holding a book

Urbanism and citizens, “Superwoman” watching over the city

So much to say about this photo, where to start. My friend in the photo is looking like a real model. The building behind is seen as an ‘eyesore’ to Tirana’s low rise landscape from those living in Tirana but not from those that have some sort of interest in the building, politically or other.

From an outsider’s perspective isn’t this building visually ‘captivating’? I think the two put together give a quick accurate glimpse of the contradictions of a ‘modern city’ growing beyond its ‘means’.

I have shared this image with many friends and connections online and with some mainstream media outlets and the tone of the commentary is so different between what people say and what the ‘independent media’ said.”We need to approach such subjects with caution not to upset the authorities” is the general gist of the later whereas what people clearly say is that it is an abusive building from a public space perspective but also visually, historically and the list goes on. As well as the debate and uncertainty about the actual use and utility of a building that remains empty for the foreseeable future.

Girl standing in front of concrete tower, in Tirana city centre

I have published all these photos on my facebook photography page Laura Shimili Mears Photography a page that is public and where you can comment about any of the aspects of this project.

If you would like to take part let me know, I would be delighted to have a chat and take your photographs or if you have people you would like to recommend pease do put them forward.