Everybody in the world knows Venice and everybody knows what Venice looks like. Millions have been there and billions of pictures were made there. Everybody has seen it in books and magazines and in movies and on televisions. What pictures can I make that are even remotely new and that have some meaning to me? I have been to Venice a few times previously and naturally knew about it to some degrees. But I was there as a mere tourist. I stayed in hotels and did what a tourist does in that city. I walked around and shopped. The city was beautiful and I loved it. But was it what this city is about? This time I was there to work. I stayed in an apartment and I imagined and pretended that I was local. Even thought I still looked like a foreigner, for the first time, I experienced what was like to live in Venice.
I contacted a Commedia dell'Arte company called Pantakin which is a part of Accademia Teatrale Veneta. I have been working on portrait series for some years, starting with patients of a psychiatric hospital in Ecuador and moving on to Japanese themes such as Kabuki actors, Bunraku dolls, Noh masks, and recently love dolls in Japan. Likewise, I became interested in doing portraiture in Venice. Kabuki, Bunraku, and Noh are traditional theatrical arts of Japan. I knew Italy has similarly vibrant traditions of theaters. Like those of Japan, Commedia dell'Arte uses masks on stage.
Masks are the characters and they are the stories. I became interested in this similarity, and wondered if there are any connections there. From what I understand, Venice became Venice and prospered by its openness to the ocean and to the rest of the world. Their superior marine and navigation skills helped them succeed. They travelled to the east and brought many things some of which became distinctively Italian, like spaghetti (from noodles of China as I understand). So, it seems possible that this similarity in theatrical styles of Japan, China, and Italy are the result of this very connection in the ocean. I wonder if it is.
Venetian people love Venice and they are proud of the city. But I sensed they are not perfectly happy with what is going on with the city. Not only flood of water from the sea but also flood of people from outside. It seems the city exists for (as tourist attractions) and by (with tourists’ money) the outsiders. There seems to exist many who benefit from this flood of people but perhaps many more were pushed aside. I felt this friction, and I tried to bring in this conflicted tension into my photographs. Nonetheless Venice is beautiful as always.
To view the works of Hiroshi Watanabe please click here