Why I love the Venice Carnival
Venice is a magical place and with the added possibility of high water, snow, mist and moody light, winter is a great time to visit. So why go during the Carnival? It is crowded and more expensive, that I can not deny and if you yearn for quiet places, the Carnival might not be for you. However, after 6 visits to Venice and 5 during the Carnival, I’m going to dispel a few myths.
Let’s start with St. Mark’s square. At sunrise, the square is relatively quite. The only people there are poseurs (people in costume) and photographers. There’s plenty of space and it’s relatively easy to get a shot of a poseur with no one in the background. The light is at it’s best, so you can also take photos across the water with the gondolas and St. Giorgio. The groups of tourists arrive around 9am after their breakfast. This is the time to go to other locations.
The Dorsoduro area to the west of St. Mark’s square is surprisingly quiet and there are some beautiful canals and squares that are almost deserted. The small island of San Giorgio is quiet and affords lovely views back towards the Campanile. You often find poseurs here and you will have them to yourselves. Our hotel is situated 10 minutes east of St Mark’s square, in the Castello area. This is quiet and off the beaten track. The restaurants are great and not overly crowded. There are some quiet locations here that are also very photogenic at night.
The colourful island of Burano is my favourite location and relatively quiet in the morning. When it starts to get busy in the afternoon we retire to the narrow streets between the canals. We always have a private shoot here with our wonderful and extremely generous Austrian friends. They put on a real show for us. It is good fun trying to get a poseur reflected in the calm water of the canals.
Some people ask me if the poseurs are paid. Well, they’re not. They give their time for free and the carnival is, in fact, an expensive time for them and some people save up all year to be able to come. We know some poseurs that start their new costume the day after the Carnival ends. They invest a lot of time and money into this, so that we can enjoy their costumes in all their glory. As a photographer it is important to remember this and show respect and patience. Always acknowledge the poseur and say thank you after. Don’t take too long over your photos so someone else can have a go. It’s not easy spending all day standing still wearing a mask!
I have made a lot of new friends from all around the world at the Carnival. Austrians, Germans, French, Italians, Americans…all extremely friendly. They let me know where and when they will be gathering, so we can meet up and photograph them. Most tourists aren’t aware of these locations so we have them to ourselves for much of the time.
If you plan your day, you can keep away from the crowds but it is also fun to go to St. Mark’s square before sunset. If you are patient you will get some lovely images of the poseurs with the lagoon behind. Just beware of the increasing number of ipads! Poseurs will recognise you and if you are polite will pose for you as long as you like. They will turn away if you aren’t however. I think I’d do the same.
So, come to the Carnival at least once. Venice really comes alive and you’ll love the energy and vibrancy of an ancient pastime of dressing up and having fun.