Salaborsa (piazza coperta)

Albert Samama Chikly, Prince of Pioneers

Promoted by Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna
Open: until July 30 from Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 8 pm / Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm
from July 31 to August 21 from Tuesday to Friday from 3 pm to 8 pm
Free admission


At the dawn of the twentieth century the invention of the Cinematograph brought the world closer together. The Lumière Brothers quickly realized that the key to their sudden success was the universality of cinema. Through the images and views shot all around the planet, the newborn cinema was immediately able to achieve a miracle: to show the world to the world and to provide posterity with documentation of exceptional value.
A contemporary of the Lumière Brothers – and one of the first to screen their films in Tunis – Albert Samama Chikly (1872-1934) discovered the Cinematograph  thanks to Lumière cameramen and rapidly mastered its principles and language: years later he made Zohra (1922) and Aïn el Ghazel (1924), the first fiction films made on the African continent. Albert Samama, the descendant of a Jewish Tunisian bourgeois family of Andalusian origin (his father, Daoud Ibrahim Samama, was the banker of the Bey of Tunis) was a versatile, worldly artist and a pioneer of technological and scientific progress. As his various business cards (reproduced here) show – Chikly engaged with great curiosity (and self-irony) in a great number of activities: he was a navigator, an Honorary Member of the Choir, Member of the Sappers and Firemen Association, Photographer and Prince of Chikly (from the small island located in the northern part of the Lake of Tunis bought by his father).
His passion for great modern inventions remained unaltered throughout his entire life: in 1895, a few months after the discovery of x-rays, Chikly opened his own laboratory and performed “free x-rays for the poor”. The following year he devoted his enthusiasm and attention to wireless telegraphy (just patented by Marconi), which he had installed in his home.
Samama Chikly’s genuine vocation for discovery extended to every field of experience and found its natural expression in travelling: he had just turned sixteen when he sailed for the Antilles; at seventeen he reached Australia rounding the stormy waters of Cape Horn twice; at twenty, during his journey from Tunis to Ourgla, his accomplishments drew the attention of the local Algerian press who described him as the “the Tireless Velocipedist”. However, it was the strongest of his inclinations – documenting reality and capturing a rapidly changing world – that led him tophotography. Initially, this was yet another manifestation of his  fascination for technology: Samama Chikly ‘played’ with exposure times, different phototypes, formats and procedures, photographed a lunar eclipse and experimented with photo-retouching.
His photographic ability was the most unique among his talents, and experimentation soon developed into artistic expression. Chikly’s ability to exploit all the expressive possibilities and registers of photography ranged from portraits to extraordinary war reportage or aerial shots: these images have both exceptional documentary and aesthetic value reminiscent of Lartigue, Stieglitz, Strand and Kertész. His very modern-looking shots bring us back to the heart of the Mediterranean as it was a hundred years ago, when its waters promoted  dissemination and exchanges of thought and know-how and when both its northern
and southern shores were prosperous and equally advanced. Chikly captured the first aerial views of Tunis from a hot air balloon – with the Medina and roof terraces (whereas the footage he shot from a submarine was lost); he immortalized the Belle Époque, the public ceremonies and the social gatherings. However, his interest seemed to be geared more toward endangered ancestral traditions, artisans’ handicraft in remote villages, farming, weaving, fishing… His most ambitious project was a tourist guide for Tunisia – Sur le Grand Chemin de la Tunisie [Along the Great Route of Tunisia], which reveals his privileged position as a native photographer and his true love for the Great South. Despite the project being interrupted by the outburst of WWI, a great wealth of images (and texts) survived, revealing the beauty of Tunisia between an ancestral world and modernity.
As a whole, the photographs exhibited here, reproduced from the originals that Djaouida and Paul Vaughan have generously provided us with, display a sophisticated sense of framing and an unexpected mastery of light, which, in the words of Guillemette Mansour “is a raw, living light, which manifests itself through reflections, drops, halos, contrast effects and back-lights that never veil the photographer’s piercing view. As if, along the portrait gallery that he devoted to his country, he meant to attribute a major role to the most illustrious of its inhabitants: light”.

Cecilia Cenciarelli




From Tuesday 23/06/2015
To Friday 21/08/2015