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All images ©Sam Lightman 2020

Artist Statement:

Behind the Masque: a glimpse of Venice 2010

Well over 20 million tourists visit Venice every year and probably every one of them carries a camera.  Coming up with a fresh photographic approach to Venice is thus a considerable challenge.

I had two influences percolating in the back of my mind when I visited Venice for the second time in 2010. In his book, “Venice is a Fish,” Tiziano Scarpa observes that Venice is not so much sinking as crumbling. That provided me with one interesting focal point. Then there’s the Venetian carnival mask, which stands in nicely for the corporate banners disguising ubiquitous Venetian scaffolding. The mask might thus be considered a symbol of the city’s attempt to hide its wrinkles while it applies its costly remedies. The mask provided me with a potential second focal point. With Scarpa’s observation in the back of my mind and displays of masks always present, my intent was to record a more whimsical view of the city in its crumbling elegance.  

In the end, with or without  the presence of a mask, my photomontages seek to convey a fragmentary, more ephemeral aspect of the city. The work borders on surrealism, which seems to me to strike exactly the right note for a city struggling to keep itself upright, preserve its treasures, withstand an annual tidal wave of visitors, and have fun in the process.

2020 addendum: With climate change threatening its very existence, Venice may eventually become a legend, like Atlantis. In which case, the images I recorded a decade ago will become more than just a fond memory, but a record of its last days of glory. I hope the images here will do it justice in their own way. —SL

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Gianfranco Zanardo, Venetian mask artist resident in Victoria, BC, for providing me with several masks to augment those I had photographed in Venice, and to Simon Henson for his assistance in photographing them. Thanks also to my wife, Maureen Milburn, for backing me up in Venice; some of her photos figure in the photomontages on display here.