When JoAnn Locktov asked me to contribute a poem to the book she was planning to publish in collaboration with photographer Charles Christopher, I didn’t hesitate. When she gave me access to the photography so I could choose an image to use as my inspiration for the piece, which would be paired with the photo in the book, I knew this was going to be a remarkable experience and a beautiful product.
Dream of Venice
A Writer’s Nod to Venezia
Fast-forward in time and Dream of Venice, the book, was and is just that. Not only is it an artful piece of architectural storytelling, it is a finely wrought creative endeavor featuring 37 sojourners whose visions of the city are as varied as its moods.
Author Frances Mayes writes of her reaction in the “watery” town, “I am almost thoughtless in Venice, reverting to a primitive creature who takes on the color and temperature of where I sit in an ochre, apricot, and stone piazza, sipping a spritz.”
Actor Linus Roache remembers the city from when he was shooting The Wings of a Dove, the 1997 Iain Softley film based upon the Henry James novel: “…I would return to those dark streets and find myself once again overwhelmingly seduced by the silent stillness and mystery that will always be Venice.”
In Joanne Molina’s Venice, “Pain was a kindred spirit”; and in Roger Crowley’s experience of the town, you “lose all sense of time.” Jessica Spiegel discovers paradox in Venezia, a “famously romantic city” that is also “notoriously hard to love.” Paul Mazursky would return every year or so for a good cry, signifying his response to seeing the Piazza San Marco for the first time; while Guido Pietropoli shares his memories of being a student of architecture in Venice, ending his recollection by recalling a glistening morning when there was “a sudden explosion of joy.”
Patrizia Gucci describes Venice as “una meraviglia, a wonder.” She so aptly writes it is “the only city that makes you wish, while closing your eyes, to relive each moment just as it has appeared.”
JoAnn Locktov on Publishing Dream of Venice
Though the finished produce is indeed a wonder, I think Dream of Venice is also a fabulous example of creative vision so I asked JoAnn if she would talk about the process she went through in accomplishing this project and her answers are as insightful as the book’s tributes are.
SH: Having the privilege of being your friend, I’ve watched how you do things in your work and life, and I’ve seen time and again that you are a producer, a very high quality one. I believe you once told me you were involved in dramatic productions in the past. Am I right about that?
JL: You have an excellent memory! In high school, I was the one behind the scenes, producing the plays and events. After college I produced a theatrical feature film starring Kevin Costner. His first. My last. I do much prefer being in the background, watching the audience from behind the curtain.
SH: This is not your first book but the perspective of it is a bit of a departure from previous books, which were centered upon mosaics. What inspired you to go in this direction, besides the incredible subject of Venice?
JL: I was completely inspired by the photography of Charles Christopher. I had no plans to produce a book on Venice but when I saw his photographs I felt they deserved to be published in a book format. His vision of Venice was unlike anything I had ever seen in still photography. It was an intimate view, one filled with texture, nuance and wonder.
SH: You had a true overall vision for this book, down to the way the paper should feel. Can you tell me how you hit upon the particulars you identified for the physical aspects of Dream of Venice?
JL: My epiphany for the cover came when I picked up a copy of Kindred, an exquisite lit magazine. Although soft cover, it had a marvelous sensual feel. In fact, I didn’t want to put it down—so much so that I bought it so I wouldn’t have to put it down. What I responded so strongly to is a laminate process used mainly for soft covers because it strengthens the paper and keeps it from tearing. In hardcover, it protects the surface from fingerprints but more importantly gives a luxurious “velvety” feel to the surface.
Also, it was critical for the interior paper to be correct to enhance the quality of the photographs. It couldn’t be too glossy or too matte; it had to be just right. The paper I chose, Garda Silk, was an elegant solution made by an Italian company. I actually chose it before knowing it was Italian, but it is poetic that it is, don’t you think? It is made in the Lake Garda region of Italy.
Charles shot a lot at night, so it is a dark book visually. The end paper is your portal into the experience of Dream of Venice—it sets the stage for what is to come. The color of the Rainbow Antique end paper is a soft black: imagine a dark shadow enveloped in fog. The printer used all vegetable-based inks, so the book actually smells good (though maybe not as good as the Rialto market!). I had always envisioned a small square format for the book, a size that could easily slip under your pillow to inspire dreams.
SH: How did you go about finding the writers to contribute to the project?
JL: It was a fascinating journey. Charles and I both worked to identify contributors. We compiled lists of people who we thought might be willing to express their thoughts about Venice as well as authors who had already written about Venice. With the exception of two 20th-century voices—Peggy Guggenheim and Patricia Highsmith—we did not want to look back in history; we wanted voices of this era.
And though we have celebrity contributors, what we looked for were original thoughts that were personal and compelling, regardless of fame. We purposefully did not include the contributors’ professions or backgrounds on the spreads because we wanted their words and the photos to work together with as few preconceived notions as possible. The idea was to reflect a passaggieta in Venice—a turning of pages that would mimic the experience of turning corners to be met with something you have not witnessed before.
SH: Were there any surprises in this respect?
JL: A big, big surprise was that people were so happy to be asked to participate! It was almost as if they were just waiting to tell someone about a secret love. Another surprise was the incredible generosity of our writers. I had just finished reading Roger Crowley’s City of Fortune, the third book in his best-selling trilogy. When I wrote to him, I was hoping he would allow us to include an excerpt from his excellent maritime history. Instead he wrote an original piece, inspired by the photo of the clock on the church of San Giacomo di Rialto. Giampaolo Seguso, whose family goes back to 14th-century Murano, dreamt a poem for us. I assumed Marcella Hazan would write about the foods of Venice. She did no such thing. Her enchanting words came as a complete surprise. Frances Mayes, one of the preeminent travel writers of our generation, sent us a piece so lyrical it became our foreword. Her Venice was our Venice. Not so much a surprise but an incredible gift.
SH: How did it feel working with such a talented photographer as Charles?
JL: Sometimes daunting. Especially when it came to editing the photos that we would use in the book. How do you decide between spectacular and gorgeous?
Actually we finally came up with a barometer, if the photograph could easily become the subject for a postcard, it did not go into the book. We avoided cliché in favor of provocation. Charles trusted me to create a book that would do justice to his photographs and I am deeply grateful.
SH: Was the photography a starting point for you or you looked for the right photographer?
JL: The starting point was the photographs. Before seeing them, I had no intention of doing a book on Venice. My shelves are filled with books on Venice, and it simply didn’t occur to me that there was more to be said. I’m afraid Mary McCarthy had convinced me.
SH: What do you like the most about the book?
JL: That we were able to produce a vision of Venice that is unique to our time.
SH: Is there anything about it you wish had turned out differently?
JL: I am guilty of sentimentality. Some of the decisions I made in retrospect were unnecessary. I have learned to stick closer to my less sentimental instincts.
SH: This launches you into being a publisher. What’s next and how do you see future books taking shape?
JL: I have the subjects for my next three books—they will all be designed by Sandra Popovich, the same designer who so brilliantly designed Dream of Venice. The books will have the same physical dimensions, so that we will be creating a series recognizable as an offering from Bella Figura Publications. Along with exploring an aspect of Venice, they will all raise funds for a non-profit that is strengthening the city. The books will have the common thread of edification, through art, design, and the written word.
SH: You usually spend a chunk of time in Venice each year; did anything about this past visit feel differently since you had produced the book?
JL: I would walk through a sotoportego or pass an antique shop and see one of the photographs, but in real life. I met several contributors for the first time on this trip, and it was wonderful to see their reaction to the book.
SH: Did the book bring you any new connections in Venice that you can tell me about?
JL: It brought me new friendships.
SH: Did you sit in a café in Venice and flip through the book in order to have the layered experience of Venice in Venice?
JL: No, I didn’t; I managed to bring 25 pounds of books with me that were given to the contributors who live in Italy and my close friends in Venice who had encouraged me throughout the process. The rest went to Libreria Studium, a beautiful bookstore on San Marco that is carrying the book in Venice.
SH: Did working with the material in the book make you see Venice differently as you walked around this time?
JL: Yes, absolutely. Charles was able to articulate both vistas and details in his work in a way that made Venice more familiar to me.
SH: Were there photos in the book that made you notice bits and pieces of Venice that might not have stood out to you so strongly before?
JL: Yes, his ability to illuminate texture made me pay more attention to the stones of Venice.
I’d like to thank JoAnn for including me within this sumptuous volume of visual and written representations, and not just because my musings are bound alongside writers I admire greatly and celebrated names such as Woody Allen and Julie Christie, but because it gave me the opportunity to express my feelings about the intoxicating town. My poem, “Tattered Visage,” which has become one of my favorites, ends this post. But first, I wanted to leave you with the last stanza of Rita Catinella Orrell’s poem Leaving Venice:
I hold my breath
and carefully listen
for the moment
after the silence
of the last bell
has made its way up
to the Cannaregio
and the city gets so quiet
it can hear itself sinking.
Here is the image that inspired my poem “Tattered Visage” (I think you can see why I chose the title and tone):
And here is the creative piece that poured forth:
The Diary of an Improvateur and this entry, Dream of Venice: Reverie and Resonance, © Saxon Henry, all rights reserved. Saxon is an author, poet and journalist, as well as a contributor to Architizer. Her books include Anywhere But Here, Stranded on the Road to Promise and Four Florida Moderns.by