Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy photographed Straight Up by Cameron R Neilson

This past week I watched hourly satellite images animate the dramatic path of Hurricane Sandy as it twisted north to collide with a Canadian cold front from the northwest and another weather system from the east. The joint combination squeezed Sandy onshore into New Jersey, blowing strong winds everywhere, wreaking havoc, and creating a massive storm surge at high tide where I live–New York City. Fortunately I was safe in Portland, Oregon, having just returned from a month long photography tour in Europe. This storm surge, however, created something very unique and devastating in New York City–record breaking flood waters. As waters squeezed into the subterranean spaces and streets of Manhattan from the East River, Hudson River, and New York Harbor, I think of a city I travelled to recently: Venice.

Venice is amazingly beautiful, picturesque, romantic, historical, and sinking: more precisely, the water around Venice is rising. There are contrasting thoughts on this concept, but Venice is certainly influenced by tidal waters and seems to have floods earlier than normal. The day before my departure (October 14th) water was already flowing up through the drains and beginning to flood St Marks Square. Regardless of the water, the narrow winding streets, back alleys, and surrounding buildings create exciting subject matter for Straight Up images.

Today’s image reflects nicely on Venice for the simple fact that of the 400 or so foot bridges spanning the canals there wasn’t one I could get under to photograph straight up. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough and standing in a canal isn’t an ideal option. A boat may have worked, but ensuring a perfectly level camera, free of any camera shake, for a one second exposure, would be really difficult to achieve. So I walked the streets and enjoyed photographing the variety of spaces created by the buildings and avoided the temptation to turn the camera horizontal and photograph the normal scenes.

These two arches, spanning opposite buildings, remind me of the hundreds of foot bridges in Venice. Throughout Europe, I’ve seen many arches: single arches, horizontal arches, but never two across a diagonal. This image reflects some of the unique patterns found exclusively in Venice. As I sit dry, drinking coffee, thinking of my friends in NYC and hoping they get power, safe water, and food, I recall the wonderful time in Venice. As water lapped my feet in St Marks Square, and in light of recent stormy events, I wonder what Venice would be like if a storm like Sandy were to hit.

I’m afraid we’ll see flooding more frequently again and again as global warming continues to raise sea levels and make summer, winter, fall and spring, more dramatic with ever increasingly intense storms. It’s amazing how our timeframe for understanding long-term effects is hampered by our limited ability to see long-term meteorologic patterns. Watching animated weather patterns for 72 hours is nothing compared to understanding weather processes spanning hundreds of years. The hurricane-turned-super-storm Sandy aka “Frankenstorm” is certainly a grim reminder that weather patterns have altered. Buildings can often manage the ebb and flow of flood waters as seen in Venice, and sometimes not, evidenced this past day in New Jersey and New York. One country that seems to do well in keeping water at bay and even creating new land with solid structure, is Holland…but that is a post for another day.