Before this summer I never heard about Gianni Berengo Gardin. If you too don’t know who he is don’t worry, I did all the googling for you: Berengo Gardin spent the past 60 years behind a camera and his black and white shots preserve intimate frames of a timeless Italy. His most famous photo is probably Venice Vaporetto (1960) and in the Seventies he documented the pitiful state inside the Italian madhouses, helping the dismissal of such anachronistic institution.
More recently he documented with his typically crude images the horror of cruise ships in Venice and, once more, he stirred up some chaos.
I felt like destroying something beautiful
Walking around in Venice one has the feeling of being surrounded by a piece of art: precious palaces, alleys so narrow that both walls can be touched at the same time, stone bridge crossing canals so narrow that could be easily jumped over. And then you see them, the cruise ships. Enormous steel hulks of opulence – higher than the Doge’s Palace, longer than San Marco Square – sliding through in striding contrast, like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Such ugliness and such beauty, destroying it with the excuse of loving it.
The photos of Berengo Gardin are an exact depiction of cruise ships passing through Venice, and his exhibition has been prohibited by the mayor as “it would damage the image of the city”.
The cost of money
The current mayor of Venice, a practical and greedy entrepreneur, promotes a project that will allegedly improve the safety conditions digging new deeper canals for the ships. This was fed to the public as a sensible plan, even though ignoring the fact that new diggings will seriously compromise the fragile balance of the lagoon’s ecosystem. In this idyllic area, neither sea nor land, where unique species thrive and ancient traditions survive, we allow those ships to go through, deluded that it might be an advantage. Cathedrals of waste and tawdry tourism, disgorging thousands of people everyday for their blitz of selfies and trash.
Cruise ships aren’t surely the only problem of Venice, and neither the only source of the flocks of bored tourists roaming the narrow streets of the city, but they are the most visible symbol of the illness that is chocking Venice. The local population, constantly under siege of hordes wearing silly hats and following red umbrellas, is forced to leave, as bread milk and meat in the shops are being replaced by expensive plastic souvenirs.
A city orphan of its inhabitants is a city without memory and without daily activity, hence it’s as good as dead, sold by the kilo and transformed in an amusement park. Veniceland, as they called it with bitter sarcasm, appearing on thousands of photos all over the world, barely visible behind the faces of those who contributed to its death.
The Great Beauty
To write this article I did an extensive research, digging deep into the economical, environmental and political reasons and consequences behind the cruise ships debate.
I learned that all numbers can be opinions and all words can be twisted, but one thing that cannot be denied is Beauty. It’s obvious, simple and irrefutable. Yet we’re destroying it, to please the very same people who travel to see it and, in the process, deface it. So let’s build a proper Veniceland, since that is what everybody want, a perfect plaster reproduction somewhere else that in the photos will look exactly as the original one.
Using the words of the photographer Berengo Gardin: “I was disturbed above all by the visual pollution; seeing my Venice having its proportions destroyed and being transformed into a toy, into one of those two-bit clones like you find in Las Vegas, unsettled me very deeply”.
His exhibition is all about that and, if you happen to be in Venice by the 6th January 2016, you can still see it at Negozio Olivetti.
The first two photos have been posted by the groups Vogliamo Venezia and Comitato No Grandi Navi, which I thank for their commitment.