I love photography. It started as many stories start, in a difficult way. Jealous of my parents that locked themselves in the darkroom to develop their black and white photos. Well, no real darkroom in fact, just the bathroom of our house. I received my first Agfa camera when a teenager and learnt how to set up iso, asa, time, distance. And frame.
Memories of travels. Nature. Architecture. No people, because it felt intruding. Strangely enough, I didn’t take photos of Venice. But let’s be honest, don’t you think it’s very hard to be content of a photo you take in Venice? Trying not to be repetitive when the city has been a most favourite subject for centuries even before photography was invented!
I had a delightful conversation with my friend and talented photographer Giacomo Stiffoni about photography in Venice.
Gianni Berengo Gardin, Venise Des Saisons (1965): Where it all began
We looked at the photos by Gianni Berengo Gardin, to start with. In his Venise Des Saisons (Venice the Seasons) published in 1965 and commented by Mario Soldati and Giorgio Bassani, you can find most of the ideas photography about Venice pivots around still today.
The Fenice Theatre and its audience. The profile of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The gondolas and sailing barges in a windy day by the Custom’s House, St Mark’s square in the snow. The never missing pigeons. High water. The fog. The bridge of sighs, the Ca’ d’oro.
And some photos that cannot be taken any longer because that Venice no longer exists. Such as women wearing elegant, fancy hats with their pearl necklaces. Religious ceremonies in the open air, festivities as the Historical Regatta, the Floating Galleggiante during the Redentore feast. Cats. The Rialto bridge with its old stores, even a pharmacy.
Giovanni Chiaramonte, Come un enigma (2006): Venice and its graffiti
Then we switched to Giovanni Chiaramonte. In his Come un Enigma (Like an Enigma), published in 2006 with commentary by Francesco Zanot and dedicated to Ezra Pound and Josef Brodskij, I was surprised by the rarefied atmosphere of suspence. Pastel colors enveloping the city. How even the graffiti offending the city heritage become part of the city and return an unfamiliar, but poetical picture of Venice. Scaffoldings, metal fences, restoration work in progress, the crowds of tourists. As if the city were wounded and was being healed.
As Giacomo said, these photos represent Venice as a city, not a museum. And with irony. And if Gabriele Basilico admitted it was difficult to photograph Venice, then we cannot but admire the ones that still try to seize the nature of this city without turning it into a cliché.
Luca Campigotto, Venetia Obscura (1995): Nocturnal Venice
Luca Campigotto was our next step and when looking at his nocturnal portraits of Venice in Venetia Obscura (1995) or at the ruins of the Molino Stucky (1998) before it was turned into the Hilton Hotel, I felt silence prevailing. On one side, the darkness of the night enveloping the shining epiphanies of the well-known monuments in the city. On the other, the wild weeds growing around the fallen brick wall of what used to be the largest pasta factory in Italy. A way to remind of the industrial revolution in Venice on the Giudecca island.
Marco Zanta, Sulle Apparenze (2005): I prefer peripheral Venice
The peripheral Venice also appears in Marco Zanta’s work, Sulle apparenze (On Appearances), published in 2005. Castello, Santa Marta, the Junghans factory on the island of Giudecca feature as the main subject, avoiding the traditional highlights of Venice with few exceptions, such as the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Church of the Miracles or the San Francesco della Vigna. Enlarging the perspectives of a city which mass tourism industry is squeezing more and more to stereotypes, promoting the wrong idea you can visit and see Venice in a short time.
A view one can do without: Cruise ships in Berengo Gardin’s photos of Venice
In this sense, one cannot forget the recent controversy about the last work by Berengo Gardin on cruise ships in Venice. FAI (the National Trust in Italy) hosted his photos in the Olivetti showroom in St Mark’s square. Dwarfing down the city, large cruise ships pass by St Mark’s basin offering a view that most tourists I have met would prefer not to enjoy if it’s at the expense of the city they visit. It’s a matter of proportion and perspective indeed.
A view to the past: Canaletto
Finally, an ideal itinerary on photography in Venice should not omit the works of an artist that also used the camera obscura to paint his famous scenes of Venice. In the Ca’ Rezzonico museum we can admire the only two masterpieces visible in Venice by Antonio Canal, so called Canaletto, painted on behalf of the prince Josef Wenzel Liechtenstein in the 1720s. The city council of Venice bought them in 1983: Canaletto was really successful in addressing the niche of the travellers’ market that most of his works were sold and brought abroad!
One work shows the Grand Canal, viewed from Ca’ Foscari, leaving Palazzo Balbi to the left towards the Rialto bridge. The other one is the Rio dei Mendicanti, near the Fondamente Nove. Great sense of scenography, composition, color and light. Drama, illusion and theatricality. I love the stormy, cloudy sky, the calmness of the canal, the pink and yellow waves, the reflections on the water, the cloths swinging in the wind on the roof balconies, the peeling plaster, the oars spraying water… But especially I love the two visions, contrasting as they show the usual and the unusual Venice, but still the same city with its overwhelming beauty.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy
P.S. I tried to post the above photos in poor quality, hoping this won’t create any problem with copyright. If this does, please write me to firstname.lastname@example.org. Some of the pictures are taken from online websites: again, if this is a problem, please inform me promptly! Thank you!