I once read somewhere that, when in Venice, you should make a photograph every time a bell rings. You will then realize that every spot in Venice is worth photographing. I've never actually followed this advice, but someday might. There truly are few places in Venice that an artist and/or photographer might not find inspirational. The only problem is that Venice is so stimulating with its grandness that it is hard to quiet the inner artist enough to find the more subtle and perhaps sublime details that the city offers forth.
It has been said many times that Venice is being loved to death. I wonder if photographing it hastens its demise? Do we become so jaded by the myriad images of Venice that they begin to bore us? How many photos of the campanile of Piazza San Marco can we look at before stifling a yawn? What do a million Internet photos of Venice do to our perception of this great place? How about a billion photos?
It is ever a challenge to photograph a famous place and make it our own. One time, years ago, I was standing at the edge of Piazzetta San Marco, photographing a spectacular sunset behind the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Venice's great, baroque church. During the fifty clicks of my camera's shutter I looked around me and 100 other people were photographing the very same scene. It was digital mayhem. I suddenly felt foolish, one of a gang of paparazzi that was stealing Venice of its peace and elegance. We were loving, and photographing, the city to the point of suffocation. And somewhere in the world are scattered several thousand photos of exactly the same moment.
Carrying a camera in a famous place instantly labels one as a tourist. It's one of the arguments for carrying a sketchpad instead of a camera. I've done both and difference in reception by the locals is remarkable. When you sketch something, the perception is that you are adding something to the ambiance, contributing to the moment. When you carry a big camera and lens the sense is, fairly or otherwise, that you are taking something away.
Lugging a big camera around Venice eventually exhausted me. I felt self-conscious and my shoulder got numb. After numbness came pain. "The Venetian muses are punishing me," I said to myself. The ghost of Titian was telling me to pick up a paintbrush instead. But Venice beckoned and I could help myself. I am a photographer and I had to photograph.
After a week my shoulder was throbbing. I was in ergonomic hell. So, I did the unthinkable—I left my Nikon in the apartment. My solution was to carry my iPhone 4 and use Hipstamatic, the camera app that mimics a vintage, analog camera.
I like to set it on random. If you shake the phone, you get a different look with each photo. The phone is light, discreet, easy to carry, and the results are delightfully haphazard. This makes photography fun again and frees one of the burdens of serious image-making. The camera is light and so is the creative soul. Shake and photograph, shake and photograph. It feels more like making a martini than carrying a camera.
I felt free again. I instantly felt sorry for the serious photographers that I encountered—weighted down with cameras, bags, lenses, and tripods. And the resulting images that I got were exciting and fresh. I made hundreds of Hipstamatic images of Venice with my iPhone, many among the most cherished of photos of all.
Next time I shall do it. I will walk around Venice and listen for the bells. And I shall make a photo each time—and I will do it with my trusty Hipstamatic.