Running, Walking & Getting Lost to Find Venice

22 07 2012

This is the first in a series of articles about my recent trip to Italy. Enjoy!

My favourite photo from Venice: Hierarchy?

Venice: supposedly the most romantic city in the world.

I’m not much of a romantic, but I can sure tell you another thing about Venice: it’s an absolute nightmare to navigate! Forget the tourist maps – they won’t help you much. You’ll spend so long squinting at those darned blindingly miniscule alley names that by the time you’ve figured out where you are, it’s probably time to go home. And those yellow street signs, forever pointing you to San Marco and the Rialto? Sometimes they work, but I’m convinced that more often than not, they’re conspiring against all of us tourists, pointing us around in endless circles, laughing at us while we wander around like headless chickens, hopelessly lost.

Ditch the map. Go for a run.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Venice. But to really get a taste of this lagoon city, I decided to ditch the map, un-bury my face from all guidebooks, and just go wherever my running shoes took me. After all, what is it really that we want to take from our travels? Memories, sure, but what are memories? The view of Venice from the lagoon, the tourist-filled Piazza San Marco, the gondolas and their oarsmen (which, perhaps a little harshly, AA Gill describe as “unsmiling…a cross between a pork butcher and a French mime”) – all these are fine memorable views, but also views that every other tourist will see, whether personally or on postcards. What I want to take from my travels are more than just memories of these mass-produced views. I want to make make these memories mine, to attach to the views my own emotions.

This is what I will remember.

I will remember the endless winding narrow alleyways and the ubiquitious presence of calm waters; I will remember the way one emerges from a claustrophobic alley, hemmed in by buildings on both sides, out into a majestic square, and likewise retreat from the buzz of San Marco into one of the many quiet streets. I will also remember the soothing sun rays at dawn and at dusk, caressing the brick walls and cobblestones with its slanting, casting walls a vivid red, leaving a slither of gold here and there.

Beware the tourist traps!  

There is also, of course, the less beautiful side of Venice: the hordes of tourists everywhere. It’s ironic that I should say this, because as a tourist myself I’m part of the very horde that I so despise. The main tourist traps are Venice at its worst: tacky restaurants with menu turistico‘s in seven different languages, displayed together with unflattering photos of their food taken with harsh and direct flash; store after store selling you I Love Venice baseball caps, t-shirts with cliched memes, ‘Not-Made-In-China’ masks and other crappy touristy paraphernalia.

Don’t just ‘do’ Venice. Make it yours.

How was I to go about touring Venice, avoiding the tourist traps and unearthing the city’s inner beauty? Ditch the maps, chuck out the guidebooks, avoid the crowds. In short, eschew the conventional Venetian tourist checklist for something more spontaneous, self-directed and self-created. I would walk wherever my walking shoes escorted me, run wherever my running shoes took me, and explore wherever the geocaches pointed me! I had my qualms about this at first; after all, how can you say you have ‘done’ Venice until all the big name, ‘must-see’ attractions have been ticked off? This was a little quandary in which I found myself, but I also quickly found reconciliation in thinking that this was the real way to journey, the real way to create lasting, personal, emotionally rich memories.

So, here are a few of my favourite photos from Venice, taken during my map-free runs and walks. You can also view them on my Flickr page here.

Also, some questions to consider – I would love to hear your responses!

Have you been to Venice? Some say that you either hate it or love it. What did you think of it?

What are your thoughts about travel? Why do we travel?  What is the purpose of travel?

Venetian Archways

A Narrow Lane in Venice

Peekaboo! Hide and Seek in Venice?

Made in Venice…not China!

A Venetian Street

View From A Hidden Street

Venice at Dusk

A Street Cleaner in Venice

Along the Venetian Shore

Piazza San Marco, Venice…early in the morning, without the tourists!

Ponte dell’ Accademia, Venice


The Moment When Nobody’s Watching

13 02 2012

The Moment When Nobody’s Watching.

Such was the photography challenge for this week and, armed with my new 35mm Nikkor lens, I hit the streets of Soho looking for the perfect moment when indeed, nobody was watching…

I particularly liked this photo. On the left you have a female monk, and on the right a man with a sharp looking Lafuma sports jacket. One is facing one way, the other facing the other way. Neither is looking at the camera. In fact, the female monk has her hand against her forehead – whether she was scratching an itch, or realised that a camera was pointed at her, I have no idea. But this photo spoke to me – I saw within it an inkling of a story. Of course, there is no fully developed narrative to really pull you in, but I felt that the angle, the composition and the lighting all fit in quite well in this photo.

Meh. I like the expression on this lady’s face as she walked through the crowded wet market lugging two large rubbish bags over her shoulders, but what’s really lacking here is a story. I’ve found that a lot of my street shots have focused singular characters rather than the scene, the group, the stories of people and how they interact together. As much as portraits of people on the streets can be powerful, I just feel that I need to keep on the look out for more dynamic photos.

Not quite as happy with this photo as I was with the first one. Just a boring old shot of a lady at the market.

So there you have it. Three quick photos from a quick photo walk through Soho. (The photo walk was frustratingly unfruitful in terms of the number of photos I got out of it…but it served as a nice reminder of keeping my eyes peeled for narratives).

Off I go to bed!

p.s. Check out my Flickr page for more photos.

Looking for stories in HK’s back alleys

23 06 2011
I was looking for a story today. I had my camera, and I wanted to find a good story to tell. The main streets had people waltzing about, walking to school, walking to work, waiting for trams, reading their papers…but I couldn’t feel the life in them. Perhaps it’s my eye not looking into the details enough, I really couldn’t find anything remotely interesting!
So I made a turn into a back alley, and although I don’t think these photos do the alley complete justice, I do feel like I’ve captured something nice today…something worth sharing. Click on the photos to view them on Flickr – the colours will show up much better. 

HK back alley. I really like all those photos of old doors, so I thought I'd do a variation of one and took this photo.


Off to work.

Heart warming...warning? This caught my eye. It's the most unlikely pair of signs I've seen yet!

HK back alley

HK back alley

Subscribe to this blog via RSS, or enter your email in the email subscription box above.

You can also follow me on Twitter to receive regular updates.