Each time I turned the page of my notebook of future photographic projects to where I had written down « Venice », I got excited. I wondered what this city was really like, the city that was named Serenissima, La dominante, The Queen of the Adriatic Sea. Yes, Venice, the city that lives on water, the city where, at times, people wear masks and where the personalities are the gondoliers that win one of the numerous regatas that are organized there.
How should I start the project ? I said to myself that probably the most logical and the most tempting moment to feel the fragrance of this town would be the Carnival. So, in the dead of winter, in February, we all drove 1.000 kilometres before reaching the town of Padua, near the lagoon. We established our headquarters there and then we got to Venice by train or car, every day, prompted by curiosity and ready to taste the charm of the lagoon, each of us in their own way. Of course, I carried the rucsack in which I had all my photo gear.
As it usually happens, the first day was filled with spontaneous « first impressions ». The narrow little streets, the omnipresent water, sometimes appearing even on the terraces where we savoured our coffee, the absence of cars and the presence of unusual means of transportation (Il Vaporetto as a bus, motor boats as luxury taxis, gondolas as cars), happy people whose faces showed admiration, and, first and foremost, the people wearing those charming traditional masks, all of these concurred to transport me into another world, totally different from the normal one I was used to. These are the feelings that one has in places that can be trully called top « TOURISTIC DESTINATIONS ». I felt the same way in Kyoto, Osaka or Prague. In such circumstances, all a photographer needs to do is let himself be carried by the dream and have the camera ready to capture everything that appears and is offered around him. All day long, we tried to « decypher » the maze of little streets full of small shops that sold local souvenirs, to understand how transportation worked inside the city. Then we got to the famous St Mark’s Square and got acquainted with the area around Rialto Bridge and the famous gondoliers. I took photos everywhere, trying to capture unique moments that presented themselves or, to the contrary, the specific atmosphere, using in an effective way natural light, funny angles and shadows cast by buildings. These were elements that were more than able to stimulate the photographer’s eye and mind.
All these things were but a preview of what would happen during the first hours of the afternoon. After 4 p.m., the light started to change and the golden hours came near. The photos gained a fairy tale atmosphere. Then, by degrees, more and more people in disguise appeared in St Mark’s Square, so much so that, at a certain point, you felt you were in a motion picture, centuries ago, in a world that, at the same time, was real all around you. There, behind a corner of the Doge’s Palace, you saw Count Casanova plotting something, then courtiers striding along with fine, beautiful young ladies, and all of a sudden a lively character, full of bells and joy, made somersaults and made his fans laugh. It was the clown. Little by little, the light of the dusk was replaced by the light of pubs and streetlamps or by the darkness of the night. The colorful characters continued their live show around you. In these circumstances, the flash becomes very important, starting to be the main light source, whereas during the day it has a secondary role, helping in fighting against unwanted, annoying shadows. In the end, the fatigue accumulated in a whole day spent standing or walking along little streets full of charm and history took its toll and, close to midnight, we went to the train station and, filled with joy, returned to our hotel room in Padua. We saved our photos on the computer and quickly reviewed them, to see what and how could be improved over the next day. Then we recharged the batteries, let cameras and lenses rest and fell asleep, making a transition from the realm of real dreams generated by the Carnival to the realm of usual dreams we have while sleeping.
Then there came another day out of fairy tales, captured in a series of photos filled with colours and lagoon charm. During this first visit, the dominant elements that impressed us were people, masks and the stories they suggested. They were complemented timidly by the charm of the little streets bordered by houses connected by strings which displayed clothes hung out to dry, in a very italian manner, or by the gondoliers’ verve, manifested as they looked for customers wanting a romantic ride in a gondola, or by the swarms of tourists that were curious and impressed by the multitude of marvelous things. All these caught your attention, creating a foreground that was backgrounded by impressive buildings that emanated history and changed their colours and charm with the arrival of the light of the sunset. Those buildings shelter and preserve, in original museums, stories of numerous destinies. Also worth mentioning are the buzz of voices in trendy coffee shops, the smell of pizza served promptly by smart waiters on animated terraces, the orange colour of the local drink, the venetian soda wine, and the misterious silence that settled gradually as the night advanced.
This complex experience of the two days of festivities in the lagoon generated new ideas of visual exploration that will be materialized in photographic stories during the following visits I will make there. I invite you to see the photo galleries that resulted from this trip and, if they catch your interest, don’t forget to come back and discover what caught my eye in Venice after the festival was over: