I guess the answer to the question “does the world need another photograph of Venice ?” is pretty obviously a resounding NO. Like the Eiffel Tower, the Grand Canyon, or indeed Iceland’s Jokulsarlon, Venice has been photographed to oblivion and back. And yet while I feel absolutely no desire to add to my archive of Jokulsarlon shots, I could happily traipse around Venice - with or without a camera - every weekend.
Venice, of course, was one of first tour destinations offered by Thomas Cook in the mid 19th century, and has been a magnet for travellers of all descriptions for centuries. Venice long ago sold her soul to the tourist trade, but then again, trade is at the very core of Venice. And yet although seemingly every inch of the city has been described and photographed countless times, every trip there seems to be like a new discovery. The causeway which takes you from Mestre to Venice bridges more than the lagoon. It takes you from one version of reality to another. The mainland seen from Venice appears like a distant mirage, a fragmented memory of some other, irrelevant place. The train station, or the Piazza di Roma, are like decompression tanks where part of these suddenly foreign lands are allowed to crossover with Venice, and which allow a space for the mind to adapt to the disorientation brought about by the shifting planes of reference.
Venice for many is part of a “See Europe in 5 days” package. Tick off St Mark’s, blow €50 on a gondola, and you’re done. I have to confess I did, finally, visit St Mark’s last December, since there was nobody around and no queues. I even dithered about visiting the Doges palace, because you have to, really, but on the point of buying a ticket (also no queues, obviously: I don’t do queues), I realised that I’d be losing several hours of quality wandering-around-the-city-getting-lost time, and beat a hurried retreat.
Because that’s what Venice is about for me. Exploring labyrinths within labyrinths, with new details and new mysteries being revealed every time, but never really repeating. Fascinating hideaways which I don’t know how I found, and I’ll never find again. My favourite parts of Venice are, unsurprisingly, away from the focal points. I can never avoid the further reaches of the Castello, but even the less ancient parts of Cannaregio draw me in. The list goes on. And at night, it all changes.
In literature, Venice is often associated with ghost stories, like Girardi’s “Vaporetto 13”, or with gritty, dastardly crime, or scary tales like McEwan’s “Comfort of Strangers”. Or on the photographic side, Marsden’s “City of Haunting Dreams”. Sort of entertaining, but I don’t really get that, myself. For me, there’s the tangible sense of layers upon layers of living history, and most of all the essential craziness of the whole concept of this fabulous, ridiculous city, the “Pure City” so well chronicled by Peter Ackroyd. And there’s comfort in Venice’s confined yet endless spaces, and just a feeling of pure joy which it can communicate. And it’s an island. I’m a total sucker for islands.
So, no, the world does not need another photograph of Venice. But I do, and if you don’t, you might be well advised to steer clear of this blog for the next few weeks…