I referred to this photo, Venice 1986, when I wrote about my visit to the Dorothy Bohm exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts earlier this year. Bohm is perhaps best known for her street photography but it was this picture of Venice that appealed to me above all others.
First of all the composition is unusual – most photographs of Venetian glass would be taken to show off the characteristics of the glass itself but in this photo the glass is almost secondary to the overall effect created.
Attention is perhaps first drawn to the bright outdoors and the canalside scene that appears outside the window. But almost immediately one is drawn to the glass on display. It is not easy to initially figure out what the glass ornaments are, you have to look at them in detail to see what is glass and what is reflection.
The window looking out frames the buildings opposite and reflects the shapes of their windows and doors, but the glass inside escapes the constrictions of that frame. The upright necks and handles of the glass are mirrored outside by the vertical lines of the mooring poles in the canal.
The ornaments are placed on a glass surface which provides the reflections, but the surface does not extend the full width of the frame, it almost matches the dimensions of the window it faces.
The vantage point selected by the photographer is also interesting, it is not face on, but taken at an angle to the side of the window. This means that the window does not appear as a perfect rectangle within the overall frame, a sense of dynamism is produced by the slanted nature of the window created by the perspective.
The interior of the room is dark and sombre, the colours of the glass very subtle, muted in the interior gloom, compared to the brash light on the buildings opposite. But it is the colours of the glass that seem to have life whereas the exterior is somewhat lifeless and lacking in true colour. But then one’s attention is drawn back to the outside world, looking for some sign of life there. The value in the photo seems to be in the beauty of the glass not in the world outside.
To me the image sums up the care and delicacy involved in creating the glass objects and protecting them from the harsh outside world.