It’s way too early as I write this, the sun is hours from coming up. The darkness lingers longer these days in the northern hemisphere, making it even harder to kick the jet lag or get anything done. Even my coffee isn’t helping, though after a month away it’s comforting to have it beside me—my own coffee in my familiar mug as I sit in my favourite chair. We started putting up Christmas decorations last night, starting my favourite holiday with lights, familiar once-a-year music, and a bottle of wine.
I get very nostalgic at this time of year. I start looking back at the past 11 months, at memories made and work accomplished. I flip through the photographs I’ve made and get excited about the ones to come, each of them representing some moment of grace, some sliver of light and time. This is one of the reasons I build short monographs; to have those slivers in one place. When I get back from a trip, they are one of the first things I do with my too-early mornings, opening Lightroom and InDesign and moving things around, hunting for a title, and finding some joy in having done work I love. Next, I’ll print it. But first, I want to share it with you.
As I do after many of my trips I put together a monograph of my Venice work called Watermark. It’s something I send out with The Contact Sheet to my regular readers. If you’re not currently getting The Contact Sheet, and you’d like to, just tell me where to send it by clicking here or on the image below.
Watermark is a first glimpse at my work from a week in Venice. It should have been two weeks, but my second week was lost to a raging head cold, probably something I got from wading around in cold (and nasty) floodwaters almost up to my hips. You’ll see a shift in this work, from a focus on colour and silhouette and mostly anonymous people to images that focus on the flood itself. In that sense, it’s not really cohesive—it’s actually kind of rough. But then so is my thinking, still, about that time in Venice.
While we were in Venice, the usual high waters (known as “acqua alta”) that come in with the winter tides hit near-record highs: the highest since 1966, and the second-highest since they began keeping records in the 1920s. More than 80% of Venice was underwater. Visually, it was fascinating, but it was devastating for many Venetians. And it kept coming back. The waters would recede, and people would clean up and pump out their homes, stores, and restaurants, and then it would come back. It did this over and over, each time the quiet of Venice being interrupted by the eerie city-wide whining of the incoming high-water alarm that gave a three-hour warning about the unexpectedly-high rising tides. I have always wanted to see Venice’s infamous acqua alta, but not like this. I wanted my photographs of these events to show the indomitable Venetian spirit, but I can’t help but see some melancholy in the images as well.
This will be my last blog post until the new year. In a couple weeks, I head to Lalibela, Ethiopia to continue the work I’ve been doing there for the last 12 years and which is represented in my book Pilgrims & Nomads (copies of which are still available here and would make a great Christmas gift), and then to Kenya for three weeks of safari.
I’ll touch base when I’m back and resume my normal blog posts and emails, likely with another monograph (make sure you’re signed up to get The Contact Sheet). Until then, enjoy the quiet and the lack of distractions. Take some time to chase the light and be with those you love. Read a book. Maybe slow down a little and make a monograph of your own work from the last year, something you can sign your name to (if only digitally) and share with your friends and family.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, go back and read this article from last year. The wisdom hasn’t changed. And while I’m not sending out The Contact Sheet, I’ll still be faithfully posting my podcast, A Beautiful Anarchy, until I get back. You can listen to these short episodes on iTunes or through the several other links here on aBeautifulAnarchy.com.
However you celebrate the light in your life, I wish you the very brightest of holidays. Cynthia and I join you in celebrating the love, even when those celebrations are bittersweet for the absence of some of our greatest loves. As we get older, the holidays are a sharp reminder of those no longer across the table from us, and the absence of their laughter. We raise a glass to those who have joined us and to those who have departed, and wish you another year of the brightest light and the richest moments. Merry Christmas, my friend.
For the Love of the Photograph,
PS – Want more like this? I send these articles out every two weeks to photographers around the world who want to improve their craft and explore their creativity and I’d love to include you. Tell me where to send it and I’ll send you a copy of my best-selling eBook Make Better Photographs, as well bi-weekly articles, first-glimpse monographs of my new work, and very occasional news of resources to help you keep moving forward in this craft we love.
“Each and every one of your emails inspire and motivate me to want to jump right out of my chair away from my computer and shoot for the love of it . Thank you David.” – Millie Brown