A change of tack (Venezia 1)

Just back from a trip to the City of Gondolas, and didn’t read Thomas Mann, Ian McEwan or even Michael Dibdin while I was there so I guess I’m out of love with words at the moment (regular readers are exultant at this point!).

I did however obtain some artistic inspiration; the Palazzo Grassi couldn’t be more different from Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in its outward appearance and internal fabric, but it’s purpose is the same, and at the time of writing I couldn’t have been more fortunate in finding inspiration from its exhibits.

The first, entitled The Illusion of Light, 

explores the physical, aesthetic, symbolic, philosophical and political stakes of an essential dimension of human experience that has also been, since (at least) the Renaissance, a fundamental element of art: light.

This alone provided some moving and entrancing art, but it was not the main attraction for this visitor.  The upper floor featured

a collection of 83 platinum prints, 29 gelatin silver prints, 5 colorful dye transfer prints and 17 internegatives

these being a sample of the celebrated 20th Century photographer Irving Penn‘s most famous work, though some of the images have not been shown to the public before now.  Penn’s subject matter is varied; Vogue models, artists from other fields, tradesmen, Hell’s Angels, skulls and cigarette butts have all produced work of great technical and aesthetic appeal, to this photographer at least.  What unites them is that they are black and white, or more accurately monotone, for it is here that his genius is most manifest; through his printing skills and combinations of metallic salts he has imbued the images with clarity and tonal beauty.

Which gave me an idea.

I tend to prefer monotone portraits for the picture then becomes about the structure and shape of a face, the elements that speak to me of character more than hue of skin or eye, but could I undertake a project that would challenge me to produce images with complex and busy subject matter without relying on colour to differentiate them?  There’s only one way to find out.

Consequently I’m going to undertake another 365 Project, attempting from the 1000 or so images that I captured, to produce a daily image of Venice portrayed in monochrome.

Now to be fair there will be repeats; not of the same image, but for heaven’s sake how do you not end up with several gondoliers, numerous churches and religious symbols, and a good smattering of piazzas?  So for the next 12 months I will publish an image a day that represents something about the city; wide shots and tight details, culture and trash, fashion and fascism, people and places.  If you’ve never visited the city (or the Lido where some of the images were taken) they’ll deliver all of the clichés but maybe a few surprises too.  To this pair of eyes they give a flavour of Venezia in a way that seems strangely appropriate.  The regional dish here is pasta al nero di seppia; white spaghetti or linguine in a sauce of cuttlefish ink, the cephalopod that gives us the brown pigment sepia.

So here’s image number one; part of the display in Irving Penn’s Resonance exhibition; 21 animal skulls.



When my work in Liverpool was complete there was another stop on my itinerary before returning home, another unfamiliar place to explore, another opportunity to learn something.

I wasn’t hopeful.  My scant knowledge of the place didn’t suggest anything attractive or interesting about the place, and this was compounded when two colleagues with greater local knowledge advised me to keep my car doors locked and not to be seen on the streets with a camera!  In fairness they relaxed their advice when I talked about the city centre, but nevertheless I kept my Canon under wraps while walking about, only taking it out to fire short bursts of bracketed pictures before stowing it safely away once more.

APW_9353_4_5And yet there was something intriguing about the place.  The streets were strung with celebratory illuminations, remnants from the recent Muslim Eid feasts, and on my way into town I spotted road signs directing me towards Little Germany, an area of grand warehouses built by an influx of Jewish Merchants in the city’s 19th century heyday.  An unlikely juxtaposition of cultures?  There were other influences too.  Architecturally it may have little to do with the great Moorish palace and stronghold in Andalusia, but the name was clearly chosen to reflect its opulence, and indeed this theatre is recognised as one of the UK’s finest outside of London.

APW_9350_1_2-Edit-EditThe skyline is dominated by clock tower reminiscent of some Tuscan palazzo, and though the Centenary Square could not stand comparison to the Sienese Piazza del Campo, the City Hall dominates in much the same way as the Palazzo Pubblico does there.  Despite the Florentine inspired bell-tower the rest of the building is more Venetian in style.  Opened in 1873, its exterior features sculptures of 35 consecutive monarchs from English history, though the decision to include Oliver Cromwell in this group provides another unlikely juxtaposition.  APW_9359-Edit

The Town Hall, as it was originally, was designed by local architects Lockwood and Mawson, who were also responsible for the grand St Georges Hall, Britain’s oldest concert hall, and another equally striking edifice within the city; The Wool Exchange.

Even to my untrained eye, this building scream Venetian so loudly that you could be forgiven for checking your step for fear of falling into The Grand Canal.   It’s exterior is resplendent in multi-coloured masonry and regularly studded with sculptures of explorers, industrialists and politicians who, as Wikipedia colourfully puts it, were “heroes of the textile industry”.

APW_9392-EditThe city is of course Bradford, once seated in the Pennines surrounded by the mills that once brought wealth to the area, the same mills fell into disuse as foreign imports took their toll on the British textile industry, the same mills that, where they survive, now become apartments blocks, photo studios, and heritage centres.  Most of course have gone and the forests of chimneys that once were synonymous with the M62 corridor are vastly reduced, though you don’t have to look far to see their dormant fingers reaching up to the sky.

Mostly dormant anyway.