On my first trip to Venice in 1963, I arrived at 3am, dropped my bags at the hotel and strolled though the deserted city, delighting in the watery reflections and the skyline etched black against the pale light of dawn. I’ve never repeated that nocturnal exploration, but looking at Christopher Thomas’s magical images I think I shall. The German photographer went to live in Venice and every night he would set off with his large format camera and tripod to capture a specific view or detail in long exposures. Relying on street lamps, the moon, or the faint glow of dusk and dawn, he created monochromatic compositions of extraordinary beauty. Misty or pin-sharp, they show the piazza and the neighborhood campi, the canals and bridges, polished pavers and fanciful facades in all kinds of weather. There are no people. “It is an attempt to recover the serenity of Venice found in images from the nineteenth century and to release the city from mass tourism,” he writes.
All that needs to be said about Venice has already been written, as Goethe noted two centuries ago. The poems of Albert Ostermaier that are interleaved with the photographs are trifling. However it’s good to read the afterword by Antonio Foscari, an architect and professor who restored La Malcontenta, his family’s Palladian villa. He praises the “genial intuition” of Thomas that he could capture on film only one aspect of a city that eludes comprehension, even by those few residents whose roots run deep.