I first went to Venice when I was fourteen years old. My parents were splitting up, and my mother took my sister and me on a trip to Italy. While they recovered from jet lag, I explored the labyrinthine calles and squalid courtyards on my own. The surreal nature of Venice, with its watery alleyways and steps to nowhere, instantly enthralled me. We were only there briefly, but in my frantic exploration, I stumbled upon a small canal with a bridge that faced a stone house with a walled garden. I decided that spot was mine, and I vowed to come back to it one day.
I returned to Venice more than three decades later. In all those years, I don’t think a week went by that I did not see that bridge and that house in my mind’s eye. I’m quite certain that I dreamed about running down the alley toward it. I thought I knew exactly where it was.
I was wrong. No matter how many times I retraced my steps from thirty years before, I could not find it. I began to doubt my own memory. I was in Venice for only five days, and by the fourth day, I still had not found my spot. I did not want to leave without finding it again; I needed to know that it really did exist.
Finally, I made an accidental turn, and there it was. I felt like I had come home, and I didn’t want to leave.
Back home in L.A., I discovered that there was actually an apartment to rent in the canal-side house with the walled garden. So five years later, I decided to fulfill my boyhood dream and stay in that house. I returned to Venice alone, this winter, and spent two weeks just walking, listening to the sound of my own footsteps echoing on the stone, and trying to unravel the mystery of that strange place.
Along the way, I contracted an influenza fever that was going around. I stopped eating and was burning up. I continued to explore and photograph as best I could, but the claustrophobic calles and dark canals began to seem lurid and nightmarish to me, beautiful but frightening. The house protected me and kept me safe, allowed me to fall apart, recover, and find myself again.
By day, the glow that emanates from the waters of the lagoon, which flow into the ancient city like veins, is a reminder that the human spirit is strong, resilient—and as unpredictable as the Venetian maze itself. ~ Charles ChristopherCharles Christopher is an L.A.-based on-set movie still photographer. He enjoys using the camera to reveal the hidden spirit of places and people.
Photographs and text © Charles Christopher. For reprint rights, contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.