The second in a set of four books created for the Venetian Suite project in Italy, May-June 2010. I posted the first book (“77 palazzi on G.Canal”) here. Read more about the project and trip with SVA here.
Every doorway in Venice is numbered. Each number marks an actual door, or a window that was formerly a door, or part of a wall where a doorway once was. The hand-painted numbers are distinctive: always red, always in a white oval or rectangular shape, outlined in black.
The numbers were put in place in the mid-19th century to replace a much older system that had ordered Venice’s doors for hundreds of years. All of the original civic numbers (“numeri civici”) are maintained to this day, whether the door is functional (or even there), or not.
I discovered that the grand entrance to the Basilica in Piazza San Marco is “#0.” It’s unmarked, of course. Doorways #1, 1a and 2 are also unmarked (the Doge’s Palace). The first marked number is “3” — a gelato shop in the piazza, across from the Palace. The numbers continue from there, wrapping around the piazza through the arcades, and continuing on into every street, canal and corner of Venice (many thousands of hand-painted numbers).
One way to explore the city is through these numbers. Venice can be unknowable, unpredictable, chaotic; the numbers project a sense of order and organization, a guiding rationale. But they’re also enigmatic.
Early on a Saturday morning, from a consistent vantage point, I photographed each of the first 100 numeri civici in the piazza. Each photo documents a number (at the center/top) but also contains fragments of doorways, people, interiors and signage. Some numbers are missing; I noted those on blank pages. Look closely at the photographs and you’ll also discover, in the reflections, what was behind me — beautiful moments of deep space and light containing palace, piazza, basilica, people and sky.
A selection of the photographs used in the book are on Flickr.
I just returned from an extraordinary two weeks studying design history and typography with Louise Fili, Steven Heller and Lita Talarico in the SVA Masters Workshop in Venice and Rome. I blogged the whole thing here.
Venice in four movements was the final result of my first week in Italy. The four little books are a set: a study of the different structures I discovered there. They suggest something expansive (77 palazzi, 39 doorbells…etc.) but in fact they’re narrow: focused concepts that stay close to one very specific idea. An attempt to produce something spacious and beautiful from a simple, methodical framework.
I’ll feature each book in separate posts.
77 palazzi on G.Canal.
Process: I photographed every facade on the Grand Canal, numbered and plotted the palazzi on a map, sampled each palazzo’s color from its photo, and paired each color with its original family name. The book — a particular kind of color study — paints a meditative portrait of Venice by suggesting a deeper history of the city (the family names), light (how the colors were rendered during my partly cloudy, mid-morning one-hour journey) and urban geography (the cut of the “S” through the entire width of the city).
In this case, as in all four of these books, process becomes content. I try to tell a story through disciplined research, and expose something poetic from the structure.
The fat little book is a giant accordion fold that can be experienced page-by-page or as an unfolding palette, kind of like the Grand Canal itself.
Download the PDF (2.3 MB).