Ilir Rizaj is a New York based architectural photographer originally from Prishtina, Kosova. Ilir is a member of AIAP, The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers and is chosen as the official photographer for the International Filmmaker Festival of New York, taking place May 25-29, 2018. The renowned photographer Ilir Rizaj talks to NY Elite Magazine about his latest discoveries, his collaborations and his work with Albanian talents.
NY Elite: Hello Ilir, where has your photographic journey taken you lately since we’ve spoken last?
Ilir Rizaj: The journey lately has been very exciting. My blueprint to go back to my roots and build a working relationship with architects and other creative talents of Albanian origin has been bearing fruits.
NY Elite: What motivated you to pursue such collaboration?
Ilir Rizaj: It’s quite obvious that we Albanians, historically speaking, we have had quite a deficit in the department of meaningful collaboration – I’d like to change that, one project at a time.
NY Elite: Please tell us a bit about your work with Albanian talents from other fields, other than architecture?
Ilir Rizaj: In the UK, I have collaborated with art impresario Nora Weller on her art exhibitions, and I’ve photographed the gorgeous London boutique of Laura Imami, a supremely talented eyewear designer. Here at home, I extensively collaborate with Aida Bicaj, one of the most acclaimed beauty aestheticians in New York– I have photographed her beauty institute and her unique skin care products.
NY Elite: You’ve photographed Chef Bledar Kola’s venerable Mullixhiu in Tirana last year. Many Albanians own some nice restaurants in New York. Have you had a chance to photograph any?
Ilir Rizaj: Having had a long career in managing restaurants myself, I have a special place in my heart for people involved in that field. In fact, Lumi Restaurant owned by the charming Lumi Hadri, was the very first restaurant I had a chance to photograph professionally back in 2012. Later on I have photographed Niki Jakupi’s Bistro Le Steak and The Barn Door (Ridgefield, CT) owned by Arbër Muriqi.
My very recent discovery was a restaurant in the Bronx imaginatively named Qka Ka Qëllu (good luck translating that!).
NY Elite: How did you find out about Qka Ka Qëllu?
I first heard about Qka Ka Qëllu through social media, but it was my good friend, the Albanian tenor Riad Ymeri and his lovely wife Leonora who took me there for lunch. The moment I stepped into it, I knew that my Nikon would not sleep well without photographing it soon.
NY Elite: What was so special about it?
Ilir Rizaj: Qka Ka Qëllu is a brainchild of Ramiz Kukaj, who brought to New Yorkers his passion for traditional Albanian food, beautiful design and warm hospitality, all deliciously executed under one roof. Ramiz went to such great lengths to bring ethnic artifacts from Kosova and Albania to decorate the restaurant. His attention to detail is fantastic, from the choice of using wood and brick, to pleasing lighting, he created a great place where we can satiate all our senses.
NY Elite: How was the process of photographing Qka Ka Qëllu?
Ilir Rizaj: Ramiz was very helpful in the shooting process – he has a great photographic eye – which is very apparent from how he decorated Qka Ka Qëllu. After we established every shot together, the rest was pure fun. I’ll let the pictures tell you more, but to taste the delicious Albanian food being served there, make the trip to the Bronx.
NY Elite: Thank you for joining us Ilir. We look forward to talking to you again about the new exciting photography projects coming your way down the road.
Ilir Rizaj: Thank you for the invite. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.