For lovers of Venice September 5 2018 is a date to look forward to and one that you don’t have to travel to Venice to enjoy. It sees the publication of Bella Figura Publications’ latest volume: Dream of Venice in Black and White.
Since 2014, Bella Figura’s founder JoAnn Locktov has been indulging the appetite of Venetophiles everywhere with her high-quality picture books, Dream of Venice and Dream of Venice Architecture, which will now form a trinity with Dream of Venice in Black and White.
The photographs in the first Dream of Venice come with delicious sides of anecdotes about Venice from such luminaries as Woody Allen, Erica Jong, and director Nicholas Roeg of Don’t Look Now fame. The latest volume has been stripped of words, just as the photographs have been stripped of colour, save for an introduction by Venetian writer Tiziano Scarpa.
Venice is a city where one overdoses on colour from the unbelievable turquoise of the canals in the eastern side of the city, to the terracotta rooftops marking the shape of the Venice from the air. Photographing it in black and white forces the reader into a different way of looking at Venice anticipated by Scarpa’s different way of looking at Venice and her people in his brilliant, if occasionally fanciful, introduction.
Taking away Venice’s colour emphasizes the fragility, but also the timelessness of the city, which are two themes many of the photographs explore. We see Venice as she appears for a few days each year in the winter, when as Scarpa says, ‘the sky… [is] … the same color as the flagstones.’ In Dream of Venice in Black and White, Venice is trapped in an eternal winter. But this is an apt metaphor for the much-vaunted decline of Venice even if it has been a very long winter.
The depopulation of the historic centre of Venice may only recently turned exponential, but it started in the seventeenth century. By the eighteenth century, Venice started taking on many of the characteristics that we now associate with theme parks and was to some extent a prototype Las Vegas. When the Republic fell in 1797 Venice lost its original purpose and began its transformation into a white-elephant city. The title of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice resonated well in the nineteenth century as it was one step away from Death of Venice.
The photographs in this book will break your heart with their beauty coupled with the realization that, if Scarpa’s introduction is correct, the Venetians and their way of life depicted here will soon disappear. Even ugly realities are transformed and transfigured, such as the arresting image of ‘The Old Man in Via Garibaldi’ by Alain Harmon. At least two of the photographs show images that must be on all tourists mobile phones, the view through grille of the Bridge of Sighs, and the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute as viewed from the Accademia Bridge, but again they are made unfamiliar by the lack of colour.
All the details known to residents of the city are highlighted in the book. Seagulls, dogs, nuns, the contrast between young and old, and walking. Walking for Venetians takes on a new significance since it is the primary mode of transport around the city. Even if you take the vaporetto or have your own boat, every journey requires a surprising amount of walking.
My favourite photograph in the book entitled is entitled ‘La Serenissima’ (an adjective that was coined to describe the Venetian Republic but which has in recent years come to refer to the city). An old woman, in a winter coat reminiscent of the robes worn by renaissance Venetian patricians, walks along the fondamenta on the Giudecca. For me, she is the young woman that renaissance and baroque painters used to symbolize Venice grown old and wandering the streets, the ghost of past glories.
Once again, JoAnn Locktov has created a masterpiece that you will not be able to put down. You’ll be drawn into the book’s point of view, each photograph a meditation on Venice past, present, and future. And if this is not reason enough to buy it, like all of Bella Figura Publications’ books, a proportion of the proceeds go to support Venice, this time in the form of the IKONA photo gallery. But to find out more about that, you’ll have to buy the book and did I tell you that you can from September 5?
DISCLAIMER: Bella Figura Productions supplied me with a free digital copy of Dream of Venice in Black and White in return for an honest review.