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Luca Campigotto’s Venice

a belated discovery

in Book Reviews , Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Venice is a recurring theme on this blog, and always will be. I’m hardly the first person to be fascinated by the place, but it can become a borderline obsession at times. It is of course a subject for photography, but for me it is much more than that. What fascinates me is the essential unreality of the place, and what it must mean to belong to and live in such an unlikely city. I can quite happily wander around the streets and canals without a camera, and even with a camera, by and large the photographs I come back with are not going to interest many people.

I also have a habit of acquiring vast numbers of books about Venice, photographic and other. Venice photobooks have a very strong tendency the feature the obvious: the Rialto bridge, the Grand Canal (and the Grand Canal from the Rialto bridge), the Piazza, San Giorgio Maggiore, the Doge’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs. Toss in a few gondolas and carnival masks and you’re done. Not that the photography in these cases is necessarily bad, far from it. But it represents the monumental and symbolic Venice, and to me that’s really not so interesting.

Somehow in all these years I’ve managed to miss the work of Luca Campigotto. Luca is both a high level professional photographer and a native Venetian, and has published a series of photobooks on Venice (amongst other themes). I happened to discover one of these, “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” in probably the last remaining genuine bookshop in Venice, Libreria Studium. Based on what I wrote above, the cover of Storie d’aqua, featuring a shot of the Bridge of Sighs, gave me reason to pause, but after a few seconds of flicking through the pages I was sold - big time. There is certainly a significant number of photos the standard scenes in the book, but these sit alongside some almost unbearably atmospheric shots of truly vernacular Venice, a lot from my favourite area of Castello. Throughout the photography is of an extremely high standard, both in composition and execution. This is without a doubt, for me, the best Venice photobook I have seen to date.

But wait - there’s more. This is not Luca Campigotti’s only Venice photobook, and of the others, one is an absolute must. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” takes us inside the largely inaccessible, forbidden zone of the Venice Arsenal. Even today the Arsenale is a military zone, and can at best be glimpsed and not visited. So apart from the high standard of photography in “L’Arsenale di Venezia”, it also reveals facets of Venice which are completely inaccessible to most. What does get revealed is a landscape of largely industrial decay. The book was published in June 2000, and if I understand correctly, access was in part possible due to a temporary opening of some areas to house Biennale installations. The photographic medium would appear to be medium and/or large format film, and it shows in some high contrast shots, although not to any detrimental effect. “L’Arsenale di Venezia” is more specialised than “Venezia, Storie d’acqua”, but it is equally beautiful, absolutely fascinating and I strongly recommend it to fellow Venice obsessives.

The third book I have is also the oldest (the price on the dustjacket is in in Lire!). “Venetia Obscura” was published in 1995, and is a book of nighttime black and white photography. Actually both black and white and nighttime are two more of the standard tropes around Venice photography, but “Venetia Obscura” again, rises above these. The content of the book soon shows that “obscura” can be interpreted in more than one way, dark, certainly, but also obscure, shadowy, hidden. At the extremes the photography verges on the eerie, but always atmospheric, and never forced. It’s another beautiful collection, and again if some better known locations are thrown into the mix, these are counterbalanced by some much less travelled areas, in this case including the Lido and even Marghera.

It seems to me that Luca Campigotti pretty much owns Venetian photography. I’m not sure why he doesn’t have a higher profile, especially in the city itself. Maybe he does, and I’ve been too blind to see. The depth and breadth, but most essentially the soul in his work goes way beyond the surface scratching that most accomplish. A lot of photographers use Venice as a means to show their skill. Luca Campigotti instead puts his skill at the service of Venice. For me his photography acts as some kind of validation - while my own accomplishments are way inferior, at least somehow I feel the direction I’ve been trying to go in is justified.

Unfortunately these books are not that easy to find. While I bought “Venezia, Storie d’acqua” from Libreria Studium (who are yet to discover the Internet), the other two I obtained directly from Luca. If you’re interested, the best place to start is his website, www.lucacampigotto.com.

Posted in Book Reviews on Wednesday, August 03, 2022 at 04:19 PM • PermalinkComments (0)