Nieman News

Funeral, San Zanipolo. Photo by © Frank Van Riper.

Funeral, San Zanipolo. Photo by © Frank Van Riper.

Frank Van Riper, a 1979 Nieman Fellow, and his wife and professional partner, Judith Goodman, are “thrilled to report the publication of our latest book, ‘Serenissima: Venice in Winter.’” The book is a hardcover collection of photographs and essays about the Floating City when the tourists (for the most part) have left.

“Work began seriously in 2000,” Frank reports, “and Judy and I made a total of six extended visits to Venice, some as long as a month, over the course of six years. We shot more than 300 rolls of film—more than 10,000 images, none of them digital—and I wrote thousands of words of text: on Venice’s history, its everyday life, its daily battle with the sea. We made it a point not only to photograph Venice’s beauty but also to document its life behind closed doors: to record this magical place when it reclaims itself, however briefly, from its perennial hordes of tourists and becomes a living, breathing city. We felt confident that it would produce a great book.

A-Venice-SMALL-COVER “So did Jan Morris, the famed British author and travel essayist, whose book “The World of Venice” is a classic. ‘One of life’s subtlest acquired pleasures,’ she wrote to us after seeing our initial book dummy, ‘is the Venice of winter, of mists and puddles, umbrellas and empty alleys and gondolas in the rain. This book magically acquires the pleasure for us—and no less miraculously—enables us to enjoy it all the year round.’

“Heady stuff from someone who also is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

“Given such praise, we could be forgiven, I think, for assuming that finding a publisher would be a slam-dunk. But, in fact, looking for a publisher stateside simply reflected the parlous state of American book publishing, the dumbing down of which over the past decade (a consequence of corporate consolidation and resultant bottom line paranoia) has been a terrible thing to see.

“So much had the make-a-buck-regardless-of-quality mindset infected the industry that I wasn’t really surprised when a senior editor at one of the country’s largest and most respected fine-art publishing houses told me, ‘We simply don’t have the luxury of publishing things we simply like.’ But eventually we landed Vianello Libri, a fine-art publishing house in Italy and Hudson Hills Press in the United States as our American distributor.”

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