Wilfred Flores (b. 1912 – d. 1981) Wilfred Flores was born in Malta in 1912. He was the son of Renzo Flores, a prominent Maltese Calligrapher and grandson of Salvatore Flores, Malta’s first private educator and founder of Flores College in Valletta. Wilfred Flores began photography and cinematography in his teens together with his father Renzo, who was a keen amateur photographer. His earliest accomplished photographic work dates back to about 1930, which indicates Wilfred’s prodigious talent at such an early age. In the course of his life he would eventually be recognized as an authority on photographic art in Malta.
He trained as a forensic expert and this scientific aspect of his work helped him to acquire a very advanced technical knowledge of photography. His forensic career allowed him to support his family but his passion was rooted in the artistic potential of photography. He was a portraitist of the first order and was often commissioned to do portraits of visiting dignitaries and celebrities.
In 1944 he founded the Malta Photographic Society, shortly after his father Renzo was killed by a bomb that destroyed the Casino Maltese in Valletta. That same year his son Marcus was born.
During the post war years his work was sporadically published and exhibited in Malta and overseas yet despite the fact that he was by then an established photographer and part of the entourage of the Maltese art scene that included amongst others Edward Caruana Dingli and Emvin Cremona, and despite being listed in the Focal Press “Who’s who in Photography”, he never held a solo exhibition of his work.
Wilfred Flores died in 1981 and was still active in photography until six months before his death.
In 1941 the eminent American landscape photographer Ansel Adams photographed a scene in New Mexico depicting a moonrise over the village of Hernandez. This single photograph spoke of mankind’s relationship to nature, its infinite grandeur and therefore by comparison of our relative insignificance in the grand scale of the universe. A single photograph that would pave the way for photography as an art form. In Europe similar breakthroughs were being made. To mention but a few the surrealist experiments of Man Ray and Raoul Ubac in the 1930’s and the humanist documentaries of post war Europe from the likes of Henri Cartier Bresson and Willy Ronis contributed immensely to the development of an unapologetic political language. Photography was to become the ultimate signifier of our civilization. Despite these and the works of many other great photographers, it would take until the late 1980’s for photography as an art form to become fully recognized by museums and art institutions.
Wilfrid Flores’s photographic work needs to be seen within the context of its time from around the late 1920’s until his death in 1981. A master of his craft and an inventive and technically skilled darkroom printer his contribution to photography in Malta cannot be overstated. By comparison very few photographers in Malta were attaining his level of artistic interpretation and metaphor. Ultimately his intention was not to document Malta (as many others were doing) but to go beyond the document towards a more contemplative reading of his photographs. By doing so he left us a testament of a time in Maltese history. His quasi-romantic relation to nature speaks to us of a calm and serenity that in today’s world is all but lost. His empathy for the people he photographed, and for the human condition as a whole, raises uncomfortable questions about our own society that has veered towards an obsessive exaltation of the self. His legacy, as is that of many great master photographers, is that of an artist that is beyond his time and who sees “as angels see”.
David Pisani Curator of the Wilfrid Flores archive
Please find the works being exhibited at the SHADOWS & LIGHT: THE WILFRID FLORES COLLECTION exhibition here