Sunday, August 9, 2015

Venice Italy - Street Photography

A Sunday Drive in Venice / © Deborah Julian

Photography on the Streets of Venice

Street photography takes a different feel when you are talking about Venice, the historic city of canals and small bridges. A street might be all water or an alley without meters or traffic lights.

You might not think so, considering how easy it is to find video and news stories about flooding, but Venice is remote.
Off the Main Drag in Venice / © Deborah Julian

I can tell you, though, that walking in Venice can feel very much like strolling through a place so different, you might convince yourself you're on another planet.

Our first morning at a hotel in Venice, we woke up to the sound of footsteps outside and conversations taking place on the street two floors below. Yes, conversations, not arguments. Conversations at normal volume.

One of the first things a New Yorker like me learns is that there is no need to ramp up your vocal chords just to be heard.

Venice, Out of the Past with Little Change

No one knows the full history of the city in the Adriatic lagoon, especially before the founding of its first church in 421 AD.

It's generally assumed by historians that Venice, as we know it today, was founded by Italians fleeing the mainland after successive waves of invaders from the north after the fall of Rome.

The city you see between the canals was built on 118 islands, many indistinguishable now for the buildings packed closely together at the water's edge. The foundations of most buildings rest on huge plates of limestone which are placed atop wood piles made of alder trees imported from Slovenia, centuries ago.

Not only is Venice gracefully beautiful, it's the result of one of the most ingenious engineering feats of ancient times, constructed before electricity, motorized vehicles and power tools.

It also has a way of seeming make-believe, sort of like a Disney World for history buffs.

What Visitors Find in Venice

A startling fact I learned is that most tourists who come to Venice are in and out in a day or less, breezing through from a docked cruise ship and back in time for dinner.

Entering Through St. Mark's / © Deborah Julian
To say you've seen Venice under those conditions is like saying you've seen a movie when all you sat through is a trailer.

Other than a glance at the ancient skyline from the cruise ship, the first taste most visitors get is of St. Mark's Square, the communal and government center of Venice.

St. Mark's is a mine full of picture-taking for anyone who visits. Tourists snap pictures of a square that never sees a car, where you can walk at will in whatever direction strikes your fancy and only worry about colliding with another visitor ambling freely.

Since this is a post about street photography, I'll leave the sightseeing for others who do it better. You should know though that, if your interest is seeing the places of legend, as mine was the first time, you will not be disappointed.

If anything, places like the Rialto Bridge are more vivid and fascinating when you are close enough to touch them. Give it at least a few days, though. Savor Venice if you can. It's a walk around city. It reaches your senses in thrilling little waves of awareness.

It was on our second trip, this time staying with and taking walking tours with a friend who grew up in Venice, that exciting views of streets off the beaten path lead us to fascinating neighborhoods we never expected.

Venice Street Photography

I'm an amateur when it comes to picture-taking. I'll take a shot of anything that grabs my attention, even with nothing more professional than my iPhone. I take what I want to remember. My wife, Deborah Julian, however, who enters her street and fine art photography in juried shows and sells regularly, is motivated by something else.

For her, photography is about vision and art, not capturing memories on a disk. The photographs you see in this blog are hers. Click on any of them for a larger view on her website. The farthest mine will travel is onto my laptop.
Venice Side Street-Laundry Day / © Deborah Julian

The most unforgettable neighborhood I saw while being guided by our Venetian friend, Gabriella, was the old Jewish ghetto, a place few tourists hear about. The reminders of the horrors that swept Europe are somberly etched on the walls.

The plaza remains heartbreaking.

But the more routine neighborhoods remind you that ordinary people always have and still do lead ordinary lives along the unique streets of Venice.

Something you rarely see in New York these days are the once familiar scenes of laundry day. But you see sights like this one all over Italy. It's especially visible in the cities where neighborhoods continue to thrive as they have for centuries.

In Naples with its tightly packed side streets, you see
Laundry Day in Venice / © Deborah Julian
laundry drying in the sun. In Venice, the air filtering through the sheets, towels and undershirts if fresher, but the effect is the same.

It's probably not much different than laundry day when Marco Polo invented bogus tales of Asian adventures here or when Antonio Vivaldi composed his concertos for a church near the waterfront.

Venice Every Day

We know a lot about the more recent history of Venice, how its strategic location made it a prime place for international traders to prosper and how the wealth trading generated gave Venice one of the world's most powerful military forces, powered by superior shipbuilding and mastery of the high seas.

You may also know about Venice's love for revelry, still breaking out in Carnival every year, just before Lent, and that the Renaissance blessed the city with the staggering pictures painted by its brilliant artists.

(Titian's fanciful Little Mary at the Academia stops me in my tracks.)

Venetian Quiet / © Deborah Julian
What you may not know is what historians usually spend so little time on: for the average Venetian, the people working their way through life like you and me, the city has been fishing villages strung throughout the lagoon since the first people settled in. 

As legend has it, the houses were brightly painted to let fisherman locate them from out in the ocean, helping them find their way home from sea.

Watertown, Italy


There's a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in upstate New York called Watertown. Why it doesn't share that name with the place we know as Venice is a puzzle.

It's assumed that Venice was named after its earliest known settlers, lagoon dwellers who fished its waters long before fleeing Italians made it great. But for me, Watertown is what it is, a city defined and now endangered by its relationship to the safety and the hazards of water. 

Here are to final, scenic views that are typical of the city you see if you're just hanging around and not having your head turned by a paid, rapidly moving tour guide.

On the Waterfront, Venice / © Deborah Julian


If you're lucky, one day you will get to see Venice for yourself. I hope I've shown you that there's a whole lot more than most tourists get to see and that it's well worth setting aside some extra days to stroll around the Renaissance.

What's your favorite city for street photography?





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