Sarah Hadley's Lost In Venice

David J. Carol


Here are some facts about Sarah Hadley. She is a photographer, a traveler, has worked for newspapers, has a degree from Corcoran College of Art, grew up in a museum (literally), and oh yes, she started and runs the Filter Photo Festival in Chicago.

The main reason you are seeing her in Emerging Photographer today is not the fact she is an immensely talented photographer, but because she is an exceptional example for young photographers. I find her "wearing of many hats" in the world of photography inspiring.

Sarah shoots a wide variety of subjects and jobs, but one project of hers moved me in a dramatic way the first time I saw it, "Lost in Venice". I had no knowledge of what the project was about. All I knew was that I personally love Venice and I loved these photographs too. Venice is a tricky place to shoot and I think Sarah's approach and motivation are quite poignant and extraordinary.

She's obviously well educated in the history of photography, exemplified by her photographic style for this series. John Thompson's 19th century images of Asia came to mind at first, but her images are far more mysterious, personal and poetic. I keep going back to her pictures over and over again...How do you photograph a dream, a memory? For me, Sarah Hadley comes awfully close.

In Hadley's words:

This project is about loss, memory and the mystery of life. I used the sights and symbols of the city of Venice, Italy as a  backdrop, as I tried to distill my memories and feelings about my childhood and the loss of my father. Venice is a haunting, surreal and mysterious place and one which has a storied past of loss and decay. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but in winter it can also be pretty lonely and melancholy.

I chose Venice because of my long history with the city - one that began when I was four years old in Boston, Massachusetts and we moved to a replica of a Venetian Palace in Boston called the Gardner Museum. My father was the director of the museum and we lived above it for most of my childhood. While it was exciting and unusual to have Renaissance paintings downstairs and classical statues in the courtyard below, to a small child the place was vast and eerie. The garden where I played had tall ivy covered walls, a huge urn and a sarcophagus. I now liken it to growing up in an Edward Gorey tale. It was splendid, but scary.

And my family traveled Venice when I was younger and I loved that city immediately, mostly because my parents let me wander it alone and I thought it was amazingly cool to be completely surrounded by water. Later, in my twenties, I was lucky enough to spend several years living and working in Venice and it was there that I first began to photograph seriously. I was having a rough time in college and, when I got to Venice, it truly felt like I had landed in paradise. After my twenties, I didn't go back for a long time, but I made a pilgrimage there in 2005. It was then I realized how often, as a child, I had seen those same balconies, columns, and crumbling walls. At first I resisted shooting a project in Venice because I felt it would be a cliché, but I wanted to do a project about my father. One night when I was out shooting in the fog, I saw a man that looked just like him. I followed and photographed him as if he was a ghost.

The sadness in this work is the death of my father, who died suddenly when I was 25, and it is also about the loss of my childhood home, that Venetian Palace. And the work is about me trying to explain the mystery of life and death and how intertwined these two things really are.

And Venice is just a crazy maze of narrow passageways, and with no cars and noise your senses are heightened. It is a wonderful place to get lost, both physically and mentally. I liken it to finding yourself on a renaissance stage set and you can choose the play. It is like nowhere else on earth, as it has hardly changed in centuries. But, it is also crumbling around you. The salt water is literally eating the foundations of the city and Venice is also waging an eternal struggle between trying to hold onto its splendid and storied past and moving into the future where it is being overrun with tourists.

After that, I kept going back to Venice to shoot. It was a pretty tumultuous and lonely time for me personally and I tried to channel that into my work. I have always been drawn to the mysterious, the unknown, and the ethereal in photography. I try to make images that don't give everything away and I don't like everything to be in sharp focus as I want there to be something left to the imagination. I didn't even want people to know it was Venice at first, so I went in winter and didn't shoot in the main touristy spots. I rode boats to outlying islands and shot at night and in the fog when few people were around. I wanted my vision to be just that, my personal vision. Photography is a great way to express your emotions and I think the best work comes from deep inside.

See more of Hadley's work at her website here.



PDN August 2016: The Fine-Art Photography Issue



Tout VTS


Tout VTS


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