Text and photos by Janelle K. Priest
April 3, 2022
It is a sudden realization that we returned from Carnevale di Venezia one month ago. On arriving home David and I both leaped down the “Rabbit Hole” of photo gleaning and editing. We are now both nearing the bottom, feeling much like Alice, descending out of the whirlwind of memories that become more poignant with every passing day. Memories, a moment of time stopped forever in the reflection of my lens.
It was called a “soft carnevale”, with fewer tourists, photographers, and costumers. My lens saw not less, but more. More of depth and creativity. Of growth and connections. Within our family of costumers and photographers, a two-year absence had given us a heightened sense of connections. We had started chatting more on social media. We formed new connections and deepened old ones. We set days and times to meet, not just to shoot, but meet. Meet and connect. It was joyous. To meet people face to face for the first time. To meet acquaintances who are now friends. To meet old friends who have been sorely missed.
Our first day we disembarked the vaporetto at San Marco for a sunrise shoot, a steep learning curve for me. I watch as the costumers are lined up along the fondamante, backs to the moored gondolas and Grand Canal, their characters moving through well-honed poses. Behind, the sun rises forming halos, creating a Venetian backdrop of early golden light.
Slowly the streaks of sunrise fade way. Costumers move to the portico of the Doge’s Palace, a drifting parade as each finds the spot they seek. I catch my first good shot, and it is costumers I know. Surprisingly, they greet me. This is new, the breaking of the fourth wall. Hand hugs and air kisses. Friends, connections.
The photographers buzz around to the cicada sound of clicking cameras. Finally they land, clustered together, to shoot those of this year’s favorites who are present this morning. I see David well towards the front.
This is not my shoot so I move around the corner, and there she is. The young lady destined to become the darling of Carnevale. In her red and black jester’s uniform, Emma Grimaldi is lit up like a firework. She is pure joy, animated and delightful. Little do I know we will become good friends, along with her mother, Eva, and her aunt, both of whom are the costume’s designers and constructers. Emma is soon discovered by other photographers, and it is time for me to move on. I walk back to the gondolas lined up along the fondamante.
The sun is in full glory, throwing bright golden light across the front portico of the palace. A costumer in all gold is lit up like a ball of fire. Click. A ram turns his head and his golden horns glint and sparkle. Click. An intrepid explorer stands back, light and shadow playing across her, a remnant left over from England’s golden age of exploration. A seed of an idea sprouts. Click.
A young man stands by a pillar, the light throwing up a Peter Pan shadow. He is charismatic in his costume of modern-day-meets-Old-World-Venetian-cross-dressing. He is Fierce. He vouges with mesmerizing feminine wiles. The age-old tradition lives on with a modern twist.
The sun is rising. I need caffè. I head back to San Marco and catch another break. A goddess from the East against a lamppost, the sun catches her crown and changes the color of her feathered epaulets. Click.
I still need caffe’. David and I come together, the morning mating dance between photographer and costumer is finished. We navigate the labyrinth of calles and bridges, a path now well known to us. Campo Santa Maria Formosa opens before us. Our favored bar beckons. Finally, caffè. We are early, so we sit, drink, and watch the morning life of the campo unfold before us. Slowly the costumers trickle in. One catches my eye. I grab my camera and am off.
A sweet and demure young woman, a striking costume of deep red embellished with ribbon roses. She is shy in her posing. What is her story, I wonder. We move through the campo as I photograph her, a wall, a bridge, and we part.
More photographers and costumers have arrived. The dance renews. We greet and are greeted by friends both old and new. Again, the fourth wall is broken with hand hugs and air kisses. The posing and shooting continues in earnest. But there is a different energy. One of connections and bonding.
It is time, and we move on towards Campo San Zaccaria. There is a good trattoria nearby. We need both lunch and a break. “Family” members pass by. A nod, a greeting, exchanges of “Who have you shot?” and “Where next?”
We enter the small campo. There is Emma, cavorting atop the ancient, covered well, as photographers gather around her. Laughter and greetings underscored with the click, click, click of cameras. And there is her mother, Eva. She recognizes me from San Marco and approaches with their card. We strike up a conversation. She is warm and welcoming. A fascinating woman who extends her friendship. Amid the click of cameras, we… click. I go off to shoot and re-join Eva to chat. In constant repetition, a friendship blossoms. New connections.
David calls to me, I join him. He had arranged to meet a fellow photographer he knows but has never met. Frank resides in the next town over from where we lived in Idaho! The world grows smaller. He introduces us to his friend and fellow photographer, Spring, an American civilian working with the Navy in Napoli. Another friendship started. Another Napoli connection.
We buzz in and out of our home base, held down by Eva on the platforms left for the next alta aqua. We greet and are greeted by costumers we know, including the magnificent and maleficent Stella.
The sunset is approaching. We tell our new friends ‘ciao,’ but wait, they are also headed to San Giorgio for the sunset shoot. We all troop onto the #2 vaporetto, chatting and laughing together. New friends are becoming old friends, connections.
San Giorgio will be our last shoot for the day. I wonder if Emy and Gabriele will be there. I’ve yet to see Tiziana and Maurizio.
We disembark, and there on the church steps sits Emy, holding court, in a dress of all red roses with Gabriele attending her. They are bathed in the golden light. As we approach, they see us, eyes widen, smiles grow warmer. At first opportunity they greet us with long hugs and an abundance of kisses. Baci e Abbracci. Their phones whip out and selfies are taken. We are now being photographed by those we normally pursue. Long laughter and even a small tear. We are all safe and well.
As the sun starts its downward arc into the lagoon, I see Tiziana and Maurizio at the water’s edge. He is her blackbird, and she is resplendent in an Edwardian ensemble made by her own hands, even down to the bead tassels. They remember me and greet me with warmth, hand hugs and air kisses. She shows me, with excitement and pride, all the handwork she created, of how she designed and made this exquisite piece of art.
I catch them laughing together against the golden orange light. It is my last shot of the day. Love at sunset.
We head back home to the Cannaregio. We are meeting up with our group and… friends from Genova that we discovered are in Venezia. We will break bread together at our favorite trattoria, owned by our dear friend Tomasso. Old connections savoured. New connections celebrated.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow, we will enter the same stages filled with new cast members and regular players alike. The endless cycle of joy and connections continues.