Thursday, April 21, 2016

Local Arts Seen: Henry Roberts' Venice Carnival at the Zeitgeist

Ah, Venice! There are so many distinctive cities in the world, but none like Venice. It's a city of islands and canals, and history. Indiana Jones and James Bond have both been there (Bond several times, I believe) and many a film has been shot there. But the images we most associate with Venice are these... the canals with their gondolas, and those amazing costumes from the Venice Carnival.

Monday evening was the opening reception for a photography exhibition at the Zeitgeist Cafe. Henry Roberts shared a selection of images from his own trip to Venice, and I make the strongest recommendation that you take a lunch there (the food is fab) to see the images he shot, and printed large. (EdNote: Zeitgeist has a wonderful brunch menu on weekends. Check it out.)

This Venice Carnival show was also a learning experience for me. I have seen the masks from Venice Carnival all my life. But I didn't know much about them other than they produced quite striking images. I even began collecting pictures of masks on one of my Pinterest boards. Having had a long time interest in masks I've even written about it here (and here.) When I have more time I may try to share a little information about the various names and styles of masks worn in the Carnival.

The Venice Carnival has a long history, stretching back to 1162 when people began to dance in San Marco Square. It is similar to Mardi Gras in that it precedes Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar. In 1979 the Italian government re-established the traditional Carnival history with the aim of developing the city's tourist trade. Success! Over 3 million visitors a year visit the Venice Carnival.

After being introduced to the Mr. Roberts we talked briefly about how he ended up being there last year. What follows are some related questions and insights he shared.

EN: How did you come to take an interest in photography?
Henry Roberts: Many years ago I wrote a Sunday nature column for the Duluth News Tribune which often were illustrated with my photos.

EN: What is it that so captivates you about Venice?
HR: Venice, Italy: I saw a magazine article with pictures of the costumes and wanted to do it myself. The brilliant colors attracted my attention.

The Venice Carnival celebration is more than a month long ending on Lent. I went on a photo safari with eight other people and spent a week photographing.

The participants make or buy at $1,000 or more their own costumes which they are proud to display. At daybeak they come out along the Grand Canal to pose for amateur and professional photographers. They will pose as requested. A half-dozen photographers will gather and take turns directing the participants. Along the Canal and before buildings there will be 20 or 30 groups being photographed and handing out their business cards. I surmise that people feel anonymous in masks and are quite willing to be photographed and display their beautiful costumes.

EN: How many trips have you made there?

HR: I have only been to Venice once, this 10 day photo trip. I wanted to capture the brilliant costumes and masks.

I have been photographing since I was 12 years old starting with my mother’s camera. Of course I began with film and always have preferred color to black and white. For a number of years I have recorded digitally with Canon cameras that shoot an image the same size as the original 35mm film cameras.

These pictures were slightly enhanced in Photoshop computer software. In recent years I have worked more with floral subjects which I like to abstract and manipulate digitally in my computer. Then I make prints and display them in our living room where I can walk by them, see what I like and dislike, then improve my next images. I am most interested in making artistic images than producing an exact replica of the subject.

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Henry Roberts has a website that he states is outdated, but a brief visit to will introduce you to sites and scenes from many more of Mr. Roberts' travels, from Maui to Mongolia to Chile, Ecuador and more. The stunning images at the Zeitgeist Cafe this month are from that magical trip to Venice.

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More arts happenings
Tonight is the final installment of the Duluth Art Institutes Design DLH series. The topic is Minnesota Nice: Good, Bad, Nice? The program begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Red Herring Lounge, 208 E. 1st Street. in Duluth. Space is limited so RSVP with the DAI.

This sixth and final session of the series will feature Sean Elmquist, Chaperone Records; Candace Lacosse, Hemlocks Leatherworks; Chris Benson, Frost River; and the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Committee. It should be very interesting.

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Today is also the Tent & Trunk Show at Carlton Bike Rental in Carlton. 3 - 8 p.m. Details here.

Meantime... art goes all around you. Engage it.  

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