Venetian Holiday

On our honeymoon years ago, my husband and I talked about returning to Europe for our tenth anniversary.  Over the years, we’ve mentioned it here or there, not really sure if we would ever actually do it.  But as our tenth year of marriage approached, we suddenly realized how much we wanted to make it happen.  So we started talking about going back to Greece.  It had been amazing in all respects, the climate, the food, the sites, the history, but especially to experience a different culture together, and we thought it would be fun to bring our two daughters to the place where our marriage began.  Then we decided that if we’re only going to leave the country every ten years, we might as well explore a new place each time!  So after a lot of talk and research, we booked a week in Venice – a city with a little something for everyone: art, sites, food and boats!

We arrived in a pea soup fog and watched Venice appear out of the mist as our taxi boat drew nearer.  A thick fog is always such a fun medium to work with.  I have several images that I just love: one from my film noir series done on 2 1/4 b/w film, and number 5 in Travel that was made on the beach in Bridgehampton with 35mm color film.  This new one of Zoe looking out from the boat as we approached Venice is really exciting to me, the way the city is almost unnoticeable until you linger over the image a minute longer.

One of our first stops after settling into our hotel was to San Marco.  It’s a huge challenge to photograph a place so well-documented.  At first I was thinking a lot about our perspective of visiting the square, the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace with kids.  The pigeons, of course, were a huge draw for our 7-year-old.  (I swear I wiped her and all her clothes down heartily with wet wipes after letting the birds sit on her!)  I was interested in narrating our explorations, how we did the pigeons, went up to the terrace on the Basilica, and then followed the stories told in the relief sculptures of the marble columns.

I also experimented with the changing light on a walk through the square at dusk.

I found myself drawn, overall, to the grandeur of the buildings and how tiny people seemed within their space.  Also, the juxtaposition between the old and the new – how interesting it is to see kids playing handheld video games as they sit on a step in a crumbling square, laundry lines strung from the windows. I liked to think about how many people had walked through these streets during the hundreds of years they’ve been standing here.

One day we went out to San Giorgio Maggiore to admire the view of Venice from the island and the bell tower there.  I made a picture of Venice from the top of the bellfry that I thought was really beautiful.  Then when I came down, I saw the same exact image on a postcard in the gift shop.  So much for that one!

Another day, we rode the vaporetto all day.  I’m excited by how I was able to capture that experience in two really different ways, within moments of each other.  The top picture here really captures a fleeting moment and intricately describes that dilemma of the camera: the way a photograph can lie.  My daughter’s expression is complex and ambiguous, allowing room for one to create a narrative around her.  The way the light plays across her face, just barely illuminating her, creates a visual metaphor to help whatever story the viewer might be telling.  In the bottom picture, literally my next shot, I changed the focus to be on the city outside the window.  With her exuberant expression, in soft-focus and lit by a warm sunset, the image is a more concise description of a happy child riding the  vaporetto on the choppy, fun Adriatic Sea.

Being a bit of a budding foodie, I was very much interested in the foods and their presentation on our trip.  I have to say, though, the Venetians don’t totally get the black & white cookie.  The icing was right, but the cookie was more of a linzer tart, and there were two sandwiched together with Nutella between.  It was good, but I’m a New Yorker.  There’s nothing like a New York black & white cookie!  That said, there’s nothing like a Venetian panini and house red, or tagliatelle, or…

On our way back to the airport, as we rode again in another very James-Bond-esque taxi boat, I wanted to capture the way the light played off the leather interior, and how it’s texture gave that 007 sense.  I sat our younger daughter on the seat.  Her fuzzy, white snowsuit with the paw feet mimicked by our older daughter’s stuffed animal, the line of the binkie string mimicking the lines of the leather and the arrow below the window, it all just worked so well.  Her expression was perfect.

Here’s hoping it won’t be another ten years before I get back to Europe!

-Hillary

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