While many Americans associate Marti Gras with beads, music and parades, my thoughts escape to misty cold Venice with its sea wind bobbing the gondolas and tunneling into Piazza San Marco where thousands gather to celebrate Martedi Grasso and walk among its ethereal masked revelers. Each time Victor and I boarded the 7am Eurostar train to Venice from Florence, we knew we were charging lens-first into a wild storm of people moving about looking in every direction but the one they were going. The most dangerous of the mob? The photographers, of course. Dozens upon dozens stacked on one another trying to get a shot of the graceful, airy, mannequin-like beings slowly floating their way through the square.
Because the revelers themselves were so hauntingly peaceful (I was always compelled to whisper when I thanked them), their serenity is seen in their photos. What’s not seen, however, is the throngs of people around them, as you can get a glimpse of in the skyline photo below. How was it done? Simple. Strapped with my two cameras, one loaded with slide film and the other with black-and-white film, I approached my beloved subjects in one of two ways: straight-on and tight, or low and wide. Sometimes I could shoot over the shoulder of another photographer to be at eye-level with my subject, and unfortunately the dozens of people behind them. In those cases, I’d shoot tight where they, and no one else, filled the frame. Usually, however, I couldn’t squeeze anywhere into the pack of puffy-coated paparazzi, so I would creep beneath the lowest lens, plant myself in front of everyone, scusatemi, and shoot upwards towards my subject. This was my preferred position. By shooting from below, I could cut out from my view the people behind my subjects and use the sky, or better yet, exquisite architecture as my background. Where in reality, the scene was of me squatting with the knees and the weight of ten or twenty photographers on my back and the subject surrounded by crowds of people, the images on the slides were of pristine doll-like figures, their longing gazes and beautiful Venice behind them. This is the Martedi Grasso that I know and love and miss. Until next time… I’ll be sure to pack my knee pads.