Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Life in Venice

Boy with Frog, Venice, with a cruise ship passing in the background
Mamiya C3, 65mm f/3.5, Kodak Ektar 100

In the last post I had a look at the cemetery in Venice. Venice doesn't just have dead people, though. It has living people as well, passing through. The main island is probably the most-photographed patch of land on Earth if you think in terms of photographs-per-square-foot. Not counting the Lido it's roughly the same size as Heathrow Airport, a quarter the size of Manhattan, and almost every squre inch has been photographed hundreds of times. Unlike either of those places it doesn't have a Starbucks.

In fact, Italy doesn't have Starbucks at all, anywhere. There's a Starbucks clone in Milan called Arnold Coffee, which uses the same iconography, but it's not a national chain, just a few shops. Can you imagine that? A whole country without coffee?

This was underexposed a bit - blue shadows are apparently an Ektar thing.

In the UK Starbucks is all over the place. Britain is famous for its instinctive debasement of the finer things in life, Italy not so much. According to this article in the New York Times Starbucks has tried hard to penetrate France but without making a profit so far, and it has shied away from Italy. There are plenty of international fast food chains in Italy, I guess they just don't like coffee.

Venice is a bubble. A bubble within a bubble, because northern Italy traditionally pooh-poohs the poorer, more rural south. A short while after I came back there was a small rally for the cause of Venetian independence. "Activists want to carve out a new country in north-eastern Italy which would comprise Venice, the surrounding region of Veneto and parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia", which has a population of about five million people, almost as many as Scotland. They would have an international airport and no shortage of places to berth ships. Can five million Venetians build a nation more effectively than five million Scottish people?

Fuji Velvia 100

Ektar again, with a photograph that countless millions of people have already taken
Here's more or less the same scene from 1952

For my trip I took along my Mamiya C3 TLR and a box of Kodak Ektar 100. Kodak could do with the money. The company is down to its last $345m. The most recent film they have discontinued is T-MAX P3200, a 3200-speed black and white film. No great loss; it was expensive, no-one used it, and it made everything look like oil. Which of Kodak's eight remaining films will go next? Portra 800, I reckon.

It's fascinating to go back and look at Kodak's website circa 1996, via the Internet Archive. Odd, mystical names such as VericolorEktapress, and Advantix, which was Kodak's range of APS films. All of these things are gone. TMAX and TRI-X are there, of course, and will presumably live as long as film.

Kodak's advertising signs, dotted all around the world, will stay up, fading away until people can be bothered to climb up a ladder and take them down; until people on the other side of the world realise that Kodak no longer sends them things. Kodak will go the way of IBM, but much smaller; it will still be there, but for the man in the street it will be a memory of something that was around in the 1960s.

Venice, meanwhile, won't notice. It will carry on being Venice.