Venice is one of these cities that get tourists crowds all year long. However, there is no denying that the Carnival attracts not only more tourists but different ones. Last February was my third time at the Venice Carnival but my previous time was 12 years ago.
Lots of things changed over the years but one thing remains constant : The magic of the event. This magic revolves around the models, i.e the people who come to pose with their beautiful costumes.(many people who visit the cite during that time like to buy and wear on and off some kind of mask but they are who I am talking about here)
The people I am talking about here are those who have spend the previous months to create and manufacture those raffinate and complex venetian costumes who could give you the impression that you are thrown back a few centuries backwards.Lots of those models I met were using the terms “ the costumes “ and for the purpose of this article this is how I will sometimes refer to them.Having spent the entire week at the Carnival I got a chance to photograph many of them. Upon my return, I send them some of my pictures along with a questionnaire to get their feedback about the carnival. I was pleased to get enough response to give a meaningful review of their feedback
So, here it is : the Venice Carnival as experienced by the costumes.
Let me start with an admission : For some reason I always had assumed that most people wearing these beautiful venetian costumes, at least most of them, were Italians promoting both the event and their city. I have talked to enough of them to know for a fact that this is not the case. There were people from many countries but a large part of them were coming from France (and really from every region of France).
What this means is that the magic of the event revolves for a large part around people who, first, worked for several months imagining and creating a costume. Then they travel sometimes pretty far with bulky luggages to come to the city with their costumes . All of this for the purpose to be ready in February to spend several hours each day posing for the pleasure of tourists and photographers alike.
One thing that I learned over my interviews is that the cost of making this costume cost anywhere from several hundreds of dollars up to over a thousand dollars depending on the choice of fabrics, making the costume by oneself versus having it made and so on..
Indeed, an important thing to keep in mind is that all the costumes are doing all of this on their own dime. There is NO financial incentive regarding the costs of the costumes, the trip or the accommodation. It is not a small word to say that it takes a lot of motivation to do all of this.
Now onto the answers to my specific points I covered in my questionnaire :
First I wanted to know what motivates the costumes to spend some much time posing for the other. The answers to this questions were varied but here is what were some of the most common answers :
To create a costume to invent a different persona
To experience different sensation being the subject of attention, to feel like a star for a short moment
To feel for a short while like a different person and brings dream to other people
To be a subject of amazement for tourists and photographers alike .
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most costumes said that they were able to create a rapport with photographers and/or other costumes that survives the festival alone.
Next I wanted to find out the typical day for a costume during the Carnival :.
Most costumes spend between 6 and 8 hours per day posing. They all seemed pretty organized :Early morning (could be as early as 6 am)! Is devoted to posing for photographers. From 10am-till around noon they pose for the tourists at,or around, the Piazza San Marco.
After they all take a very deserved lunch break ( more on that later) . The rest of the afternoon is usually spent posing privately (outside the touristy main drag) for photographers who have made previous arrangements with them .
After determining what are the plusses as seen by the costumes , I also asked them whar were the most annoying things for them.Here are the most common answers :
First and by far the most annoying thing for costumes is people “grabbing” the models to attract their attention, causing the risk to damage the costume.Here is what Cindy had to say : “Tourists should remember that we in the masks have VERY limited vision. We don’t often know that someone is standing next to us if they don’t ask. All of the sudden we feel someone grabbing our arm or wrapping their arm around our waist. It is disconcerting.”
The second most cited drawback is directly linked with wearing the costume . Wearing the costume all day can be very tiring, and it makes very difficult to eat and drink and worse using the toilets.
Third annoyance is the lack of consideration from some people towards the models. Among the things listed were :
“When we are walking back to our apartment or hurrying to get to a photo shoot sometime tourists get angry with us that we won’t stop. They should try to be understanding”
The costumes try to make time for both the tourists and the photographers but sometimes that is not respected as explained:”Every time a tourist stepped on the bench to be in a photo with us the entire crowd would groan and have to put their cameras down so they wouldn’t have the tourist in their photos. When we told tourists no they would come up anyway.”
On that score my favorite comment was from Cindy : ” I must be honest and say that I don’t like the “selfie culture” that has been taking place the last year or so. It seems that tourists are more interested in taking a photo of their faces than what they have traveled a great distance to see. Before the “selfie craze” it seemed that that more people thought of taking our photo as an art form, rather than a background for their own face”.
I could not have said it better. This is also a mystery and an annoyance to me wherever I go. I can understand people wanting to take their picture to send to a loved one but I swear that I am not making that up. I have seen tourists for several days in a row took hundreds -if not thousands- pictures but NO a single one without them in it. When I was photographing the costumes one of MY personal surprise and annoyance was photographers exclusively using the flash regardless of the ambient light and the proximity to the models. Clearly , the models do not mind. I would still advise serious photographers to think a few seconds of the light before choosing that special look of photos made at close distance with flash.
Clearly photographers & tourists should appreciate the time given freely by all the costumes and showing them the respect they truly deserve. As Sara eloquently put it : I take pleasure in the smiles and appreciation given to me when I take the time pose with someone.
Yes we all tend to forget sometimes that a smile and a thank you can go along way. and in circumstances like this , the language does not matter much.A thank you with a smile can be understood in any languages
A final note to photographers : Very often, the models are very interested in getting images of them. so when a model spends several precious minutes to pose for you, getting his or her info to send them pictures is a simple yet meaningful to share a passion for having created nice imagery.
I would like to address special thanks to all the models from the carnival who took the time to answer my questions and share their feedback for this article . so Grazie mille to Joel & Corinne, Claude, Sara,Kathryn,Nancy, Christiane and last but not least Cindy who despite the fact that I did not get the chance to photograph her in her costume went out of her way to send me the answers of several of her model friends
Hopefully I will get a chance to photograph them in a future edition of the Carnival.