On November 25th, on a rainy Sunday in Venice, in the stunning Music Room of Ca’ Sagredo, the presentation of the book “Dream of Venice in Black and White” in front of more than a hundred people proved the perfect occasion to talk about Venice. JoAnn Locktov, publisher of a third photography book on the city; Lisa Katsiaris, photographer of the book’s cover image, and Tiziano Scarpa, who wrote the book’s Introduction, had a chat about their work and relationship with Venice. What follows is an extract of their thinking out loud.
MY FIRST TIME
I came here twenty years ago for the first time and I’ve remained a tourist ever since; even now, I’m just a tourist who makes books on Venice, and I happen to be a little bit better with my Italian. That’s about it”.
My first time here was back in 1993. It was in that first trip that I fell in love with Venice. I became a photographer only five years ago. I think one of the reasons is because I always thought about myself as an observer. I love music but I do not play any instrument, I like opera but I do not sing, I love go to theatre but I’ve never acted, I love art but I do not paint. I think photography is the ultimate stage to be an observer, to concentrate myself, a type of meditation almost.
I’ve always been considered a Venetian writer, and often I would like to be myself less than I actually am. I’d like to be beyond myself in some way, but all the world keeps asking me to BE Venetian. Just as a cat has to miao and a dog has to bau, I cannot get out of that frame. Ultimately, I have to accept the fact that I sweat Venetian words.
THE BOOK, VENICE, AND ME
From: Dream of Venice in Black and White, Introduction
“I live next to tourists. I live alongside them. What I mean is: I don’t just meet strangers on the streets; tourists are my neighbours. I live here and I’m always the same. They change. My continuity borders on their impermanence. Mu destiny in life is to live next to people in continuous rotation. I live in perpetual change. Between Being and Becoming, I am a tenant of Becoming. This was a revelation. Previously I had been used to seeing Venetians as a physical expression of the city. A sort of secretion of the stones just like the algae that grow on the brocks of the houses on the canals or the kelp clinging to the white stone steps of the moorings”.
Most well-known passages of Italian Venetian writers are not translated. Usually Anglo-Saxon writers take passages from other Anglo-Saxon writers, not Italian ones. So, my introduction is an opportunity to read about pure mentality, my thinking, and an Italian thinking about Venice.
With regards to Venice, the problem of speaking about a beautiful thing is the risk of sounding pompous. When describing and writing about beautiful things the words become clichés, almost kitsch. It is the essentially the opposite of modern aesthetics. So from my point of you, I try to write about a different type of aesthetics, not about the cliché image of Venice. The same is true of JoAnn’s book: it is a call to every photographer to propose his/her idea of Venice, to put a different Venice into a rectangle.
Yes, I wanted a new perspective on Venice. I was not interested in whether the photographers were professionals or not, I merely wanted to feel something, to see a story in the image. Could I find any emotional connection with this image in front of me? What’s going on before and after that click? I was looking for photographs which could transcend time and which contained a narrative.
ABOUT THE COVER
The bricole are for me the real icons of Venice, the core if you like. They signify the relationship between the land and the lagoon. They create a kind of passage, a synergy between the residents and the lagoon. We have an expression about ‘the canary in the coal mine’…when a little bird stops breathing in the coal mine it means there is no oxygen left and the miners need to leave immediately. The comparable Venetian ‘canaries in the coal mine’ are the bricole. If they are disintegrating and in disrepair, it is a sign that Venice too is failing.
I think places are more like people. I know it seems cliché, but the more you see the more you know and understand them, their idiosyncrasies, their qualities and flaws… As much as I love to travel I find it more rewarding to come back to the same places. Every day is different, we ourselves change, and we see in a different way each time. One specific reason for my coming back to Venice is definitely the water. Venice has changed greatly in the last years, there are so many people, even in the winter…And yes, it is harder for me to find quiet spaces to make the photography I like, but on the other side it makes you more creative, and makes you look at things around you with a different eye.
WHAT WE CAN DO FOR VENICE
After I read Tiziano’s introduction, I had an existential crisis. Considering that 30 million people a year come into a city that can safely accommodate just 12 million, it’s clear that there is nothing sustainable about those numbers. The only thing you have to think about is that we have to reduce those numbers. I think deeply about my role, as a tourist, as someone who loves Venice, and as a human being. I feel quite selfish: I come here because it’s so fabulous, the food is good, I can see my friends, and anywhere you look is incredibly beautiful, but maybe my pleasure should not be the most important thing anymore. I took what Tiziano wrote very seriously. I think the visitors who come to your city have to decide for themselves what the best answer is, and that may not necessarily be the best for our selves, but rather for the common good. Maybe it is time to bring back the common good.
It is a dilemma. I think it is about quality and quantity. I have been a tourist for a long time…Well, I am trying to be a good tourist: local restaurants, local shops, and the real, authentic things… If someone like me stays away, what’s left? Cruise passengers. So if everybody gave a good example, even just a small one, it would be better for everybody. I think we should focus on quality and leave quantity aside.
The fundamental attitude and spiritual choice, as hard as it may seem, (a sort of heroic stand if you like), is that Venice does not belong to us. It belongs to the next generations, not ours. Knowing that Venice is not ours, we have to live here deeply rooted. Venice needs to be lived by people deeply rooted in order to keep it for the next generations. It is not an easy task, in fact it is almost a contradiction, but it is the only thing we can do for Venice.
top/header image: Eva Sipola, 2017, Palazzo Franchetti reflected