There is a great old cartoon from the New Yorker that my dad sent to me many years ago. In the pictures, two bums are sitting on a park bench, and one of them is saying to the other, “I’ve had a lot of great ideas in my life; I just lacked follow-through.”
I know quite a few guys like that old bum; in fact, I sometimes feel like that guy myself. I get ideas for projects, stories, and photographic series all the time. They spill out of my brain and assemble themselves in minutes… sometimes I envision the concept behind the project, the logistics, the lighting; sometimes it’s just an idea for a story that seems somehow poignant or relevant or just visually compelling. Some are vague, half-formed visions based on dreams, myths, archetypes; or particular ways of envisioning a particular place. Many of these projects I have developed and brought to life as exhibitions, magazine articles, small-run books, etc. Others remain works in progress, items on the list of things I should finish. Others, I fear, are doomed never to be completed. Anyone who looks through my website can tell that there are a lot of half-baked or nearly fully-formed collections floating around my workspace–and those are only the ones I have decided to post.
Then there are stories that I have been waiting years to begin. Stories that I have held in my imagination for years, stories that are close to my soul and essential pieces of the puzzle that is my artistic journey. I might not have taken a single picture or written anything more than simple ideas around them, but I know they will be major bodies of work in my future. In a way, the knowledge that these adventures await me keeps me looking forward to the future; but at the same time they bring about a sense of frustration, as they always seem to get postponed, and postponed.
Generally I put my trust in the dharma of the gestation period; when the time is right, when the idea is ready to be birthed, it will happen. So I am content, just barely, to wait. Right now it seems my left brain is at the wheel, reminding me that I have unfinished work to do on other projects. Projects that I need to complete before I can dive into new ones with my full attention.
Of course, the question arises, when exactly is a project finished? Some projects might warrant no more than a small magazine article. Or maybe an exhibition, of perhaps 15-20 images. For me, however, the ultimate goal of every photographic project is a book. I’m happy to do articles and exhibitions, but until the project is fully realized as a book, the project remains, well, an open book…
Right now I am in the course of completing two bodies of work that have been hanging around too long, unfinished. There is my After the Storm series, which is about the life, culture, and experience of surfing on the wild Atlantic coast of North Carolina; and there is my project on Carnival, on which I have been working for the last five years. The surfing project is nearly complete: I have a publisher, a designer, a retoucher, and a printing house all lined up, and all that remains is a certain amount of fundraising, marketing, and babysitting the project until the book is launched.
The Carnival project is a little more complex. Although I had originally conceived it as a journey through Carnival celebrations around the world, I have recently come to realize that such a task is too much for one person, and I have begun talks with a number of colleagues in the industry about creating a larger book with the work of many photographers, spanning dozens of Carnival celebrations around the world. This will free me to complete a book on my own about the Venetian Carnival, and also contribute my work from Venice, New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro to the larger book.
Later this spring and summer, when I have hired an intern and have time at home to organize things, many of these images will be available through the National Geographic Image Collection, at www.ngstock.com. Work on the book will probably take a couple of years, as we figure out the scope of the project and decide whether or not there are any holes in the coverage that need to be filled by delaying production one more year to cover other Carnivals. Other questions, such as whether or not to include festivities which are called such as the Notting Hill Carnival in England, and the Brooklyn Carnival in New York, which are not held during the traditional pre-Lenten calendar period, but are nonetheless derived culturally from other Carnivals–the Trinidadian carnival in particular–remain to be discussed and decided.
Bearing all that in mind, I now find myself back in Venice, looking for the missing pieces that will transform my collection of images here into a fully-formed book. In theory, I only need about 10 more pictures, and I know fairly specifically what kinds of pictures I need, and how I want the book to come across conceptually. The Venetian Carnival at street level can sometimes seem a bit of a tawdry affair, the streets crammed with tourists wearing plastic masks and cheap costumes, taking photos of each other in front of canals; vendors from Eastern Europe and South America selling masks made in China in every campo, square and strada. But behind these rather embarrassing scenes of Venice prostituting its own heritage and history for a few euros; behind closed doors, there are elaborate masquerade balls, dancers in period dress, and a whole coterie of aficionados living out a fantasy of an imagined past, the glory of the old Venice, the great Serenissima, a kingdom which had an unbroken succession of Doges for over 1000 years, and a Carnival which at its height was the largest, most extravagant, and most decadent party in all of Europe. And, in this newly re-imagined Carnival, the extravagance of progressive theater, lighting, acrobatics, pyrotechnics, and modern design have taken the European aesthetics and archetypes and turned them into something truly magical, fully realized in only a small number of events of the Venetian Carnevale, most particularly La Grand Cavalchina and Il Ballo del Doge, the penultimate balls of the modern Carnival.
So it is behind these closed doors, into the dream of Carnival, that I am seeking to step. I have secured invitations and gotten information on press tickets to several of these masquerade balls, and am still working on access to Il Ballo del Doge. To me, this represents the missing piece to my story of Carnevale, and I will not be able to step into the dream/fantasy zone that I am interested in capturing until I have secured my invitations and constructed my own personal charade. In order to more discreetly blend into the masquerade, I will need to put together a suitable costume, one which will allow me to move about with ease but not put the participants and guests at unease. I need to become one of them, only carrying a camera as part of my mask, my mirror, my disguise.
The weather here in Venice has been exruciatingly cold the past week or so. The northeast wind known as the “Bora”–which blows down from Siberia with a speed, frigidity, and ferocity that literally has the power to knock you over–has been raging, although it appears it is on the decline and temperatures are beginning to rise by a few degrees. The official opening ceremonies of Carnival have come and gone, and though I had press access to get decent shots, poor light and the knowledge that I could never get images as good as the ones I got in 2008 kept me from bothering too much with them. Instead, I spent yesterday afternoon with local photographer Michele Crosera, drinking wine around a couple of bars in the Rialto district, and enjoying cichetti: bite-sized treats similar to Spanish tapas, which are an essential ingredient to a Venetian pub crawl. While explaining cichetti to me, Michele and his assistant Giovanni schooled me on the ancient maritime ties between Spanish and Venetian culture, even noting certain words only used in Venice which are similar to Spanish words.
For now, then, I have little to show other than some legwork, but tonight I will be meeting with Michele to take some pictures at Caffé Florian, which is always a good source for images of Carnival. If I have time, I will post some. But thinks are likely to get fairly busy over the next few days, so it may have to wait. Until then, ciao, and buona fortuna.