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Nightwalking

available darkness

in Photography , Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Sestiere di Castello, Venezia, approaching midnight, approaching silence.  Probably a real photographer would have made these black & white & moody & gritty.  Probably a real photographer wouldn’t have taken them at all.

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Calle e Fondamente

such auspicious signs

in Photography , Friday, January 31, 2014

Venice: where street signs are just a hint of where you might be, where you could be, where you once were.

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Crazy City

sentimental claptrap

in Photography , Wednesday, January 29, 2014

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.

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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…

 

two photos

out of 6500…

in Photography , Monday, December 30, 2013

I made about 6500 photos in 2013. Seems rather a lot. The trouble it’s a lot easier to amass photos, especially digital photos, than it is to edit them. I still have a considerable number of digital photos from Patagonia in January 2013 to go through, although I’ve done most of the film scanning.  This last year, apart from local stuff, I’ve photographed in Argentina, Antarctica, Venice (twice), Tuscany (twice) and Sardinia. As for the local stuff, well my collections from the Verzasca and Maggia valleys, as well as various other areas in Ticino, have carried on growing.

It’s difficult to come up with a “top 10” out of all that, but there are a few which stick in my mind, and so which I could qualify as my favourites for 2013.

This first shot was taken in a blind alley in Venice on March 1st.  I’ve made a big print of it and I find it quite captivating. By sheer chance I stumbled across the exact same scene last week when I was back there for a few days. Typically for Venice, I was nowhere near where I thought I was.

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There are a couple of “panoramic” shots of Antarctica which I’m fairly satisfied with.  The one below competes with a few others for my favour, but at the moment it’s top of the pile.

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And that’s it.

Of course, there are many more photos which I’ve made over the year which I’m pleased with, but no others have really gotten under my skin. Partly because I just haven’t given them time to do so, partly because many work better as part of a set, but perhaps also because churning out the same pictures year in, year out, with slight technical and technique improvements (I hope) doesn’t really excite much.  I could easily add to this list and make a “Top 10” but I’d be forcing the issue.

Probably we all take far, far too many photos, and this starts to dilute the experience of being there, wherever, or whenever, “there” may be. I think it is better to move away from “capturing the moment” and closer to “enjoying the moment”. Obviously if photography is a means to make a living then the parameters might be different. But when it is rather a scramble to produce some fleeting, intangible popularity through social media “likes”, then maybe there’s a danger of completely disconnecting with the very motives that drive many of of us to photography in the first place.

And with that cheerful thought, my best wishes for 2014.  :)

 

Isola Nova

Exhibition by Philippe Calandre

in Photography , Monday, December 23, 2013

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to come across a captivating exhibition in Venice, called Isola Nova. Presented by the Wilmotte Foundation, “Isola Nova” is the work of French artist Philippe Calandre, who’s work is a combination of photography, painting and video. Isola Nova presents a series of imagined new islands, drawing on both the real and the imaginary, combining elements of the real Venice with steampunk-like industry, set within a lagoon of dark, restless seas and skies.

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Utopia 3, from Isola Nova, by Philippe Calandre

The work is also reminiscent of the original Myst game, with its small, mysterious islands hiding disjointed artefacts and baffling technology. But there is something fundamental about this vision of complex yet contained worlds which strongly appeals to me. I am always drawn to islands, wherever I find them, and the real islands of the Venice lagoon are mysterious enough to me, never mind the fantastic creations of Isola Nova.

The originals are printed quite large.  The photography is meticulous, exquisite - ands largely irrelevant. This is photography as an raw material for creativity, not as the end point, and in my opinion this is truly deserving of the label “art” in a way which very, very little photography is. It’s also sort of the way I first got hooked on taking photography seriously, as an input to illustration.

I guess Isola Nova would not be to everybody’s taste, but if by chance you happen to be in Venice before Feb 15th, and you can find your way to Fondamenta dell’Abbazza in Canareggio (it’s not that hard, but it’s a bit off the tourist circuit) then really, the exhibition is well worth a visit.

 

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