J.M.W. Turner’s supposed last words were “The sun is God.” During a week long stay in Venice this past January, I began to feel that way myself. I have been to Venice more times than I can remember. I was married to a woman from Veneto and I know people there. I am no longer shocked by the city’s beauty, but I am still susceptible to those singular moments - most often occurring in winter in what seems like an improbably isolated place, when the modern world is completely eclipsed by what is so aptly named “La Serenissima.” Despite the fact that I am often lost, I pick my routes carefully. I have already seen San Marco and most of the other destinations that have become so overwhelmed by tourism that they can be offensive, so I seek quieter quarters or venture out late at night. I have never been to a Biennale, but I have wandered among its seemingly abandoned pavilions in the Giardini at night in the fog.
What do you do with Venice: a place where it seems like the number one activity after breathing is taking a photograph? It is certainly there for the taking. It seems at times to exist for nothing else. At first, I tried to keep the spirit of Edward Hopper in mind. But here, his images of abandoned, empty places were limited in their usefulness. Then the sun came out and J.M.W. Turner came to mind. My friends Massimo and Viretta have a small plot of land on the island Mazzorbo, located near Burano. We went in their boat, Massimo’s main means of locomotion, through the canals until we broke out into the lagoon. We passed San Michele and Murano, where Massimo works making glass, and in half an hour we were looking at Venice as distant stripe of black floating on a horizon bisecting a brilliant sky and its refracted
twin. The closest thing I could see was the island of Torcello. I pointed my camera directly at the sun and the result reminded me of a Turner on acid. As the day ended, fog enclosed the sun and that became the subject. Light and its foil seemed the best I could hope for.
There were also four days away from Venice and the return for the final threedays: lots of nice but not very visually intriguing moments; good food and company; a lot of walking, frustration, claustrophobia, and hangovers; and a feeling of happiness and anger. The world is not fair and Venice was built on that - by greed, violence, intrigue, and decadence. It is hard to be reminded that nothing much has changed, especially when the reminder is the quintessence of antiquity.
Venice is in many ways a jewel that cuts deeply. Photography seems almost a transgression of its intrinsic nature. Venice is the immortal past. Photography is the souvenir of a dead instant. They are both based on acquisition. People need them both.
To view the works of Philip-Lorca diCorcia please click here