Venice unmasked

I returned from my annual pilgrimage to Venice on 18 January. With Easter falling early this year, it felt as if I was getting out in the nick of time, since the municipality was starting to erect staging in the Piazza San Marco ready for Carnevale.

Venetophiles are divided into those who love the buzz and excitement of Carnevale and those who would rather have root canal surgery than subject themselves to the crowds and gaudy outfits of the poseurs. I’m firmly in the latter camp. For me, today’s version of Carnevale is a pastiche that turns Venice into a theme park: crowded, overpriced, brash and full of gawping tourists, but clearly fun for some. As I said, Venetophiles are on different sides of the canal on this debate; there’s no middle ground.

As an antidote to Carnevale, I thought I’d share some photographs that I came across recently. They are by Carlo Naya (1816-1882), an Italian photographer who opened a studio in Venice in 1857, and Tomaso Filippi (1852-1948), who joined Naya’s studio in 1870, working with Naya until his death in 1882. As well as photographing classic Venetian views aimed at the tourist market, both men captured Venetians and life around the lagoon: men fishing, women stringing beads, street sellers, shop keepers, paupers.

They are beautiful images revealing a Venice that feels both present and familiar and yet distant and long departed. And not a poseur in sight.

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