Giovanni Puppini’s photographic book tells the story of Venice in the sixties

Venice (Italy) – Back then, after school, you would play football stripped to the waist all afternoon, until you were summoned in for dinner. You would spend most of your life outdoors, away from the damp ground floors devastated by flood water, which was particularly high in 1966, but always in Venice a city so beautiful as to forget any hardship.

Strolling around Piazza San Marco it was not uncommon to be able to lightly touch the hand of a young Queen Elizabeth. Some older ladies however, would never venture “so far”, because you needed to dress up to attend the events in the Piazza, and not everyone could afford to. The snow, as it does today, fell white and bright for everyone, covering the buildings and bell towers with its blanket of silence, creating majestic sceneries to watch from behind windows.
La Regina Elisabetta a San Marco (1024x865)
In this portrait of Venice in the sixties, Giovanni Puppini, class of 1941 and member of the La Gondola Photographic Society, was a young photographer who by trade was a teacher of Economics at the Algarotti High School. He would always bring his camera along, and whenever something caught his eye he would stop and take a picture: this could happen on a normal day returning home from school, or on a particular Sunday, or even, when notable people were visiting the city, like the time when the English Royal Family arrived in Venice or when Pope Paul VI came on a visit. For pure passion, and with great talent, he captured the essence of Venice on black and white photographic film; views that evoke nostalgia for a long-gone present. Scenes of everyday life which Puppini, now a retired schoolteacher, has collected and organised under different headings in a photographic book, “Venezia anni Sessanta”.
Giudecca, partita di calcio in Campo Marte (1024x701)
The pages of “Venezia anni Sessanta” plunge you into a Venice home to a population of around two hundred thousand people, which today can only be found in the chronicles and old stories. Giovanni Puppini’s city in black and white, shows fishermen mending their nets stretched out along the narrow calli; campi filled with children playing cimbani – inventive games involving bottle caps – or engaging in tournaments of massa e pindolo, the Venetian version of tip-cat, and finally scenes of the Ganzer, the retried gondolier who, in exchange for a few coins, helps keep the gondola next to the pier using a decorated hooked stick, (“ganso” in Venetian dialect) to allow people to get off. The photos also show Venice in the postwar years, when population was at its highest but severely affected by the crisis of the traditional sectors: the Arsenal shipyards, the Molino Stucky industrial mills, the cotton mills, the industrial port and shipyards.

The industrial crisis led to unemployment, poverty and instability, only made worse by the disastrously high flood of 1966, and indeed, in that year many Venetians of the town centre also lost any minimal health conditions. Giovanni has photographed many scenes of “acqua alta” floods, but of this particular one, he has no evidence: “That morning, I left my camera at home”, says Giovanni.

“It looked as if Venice had been bombed. The situation was really terrible: I had to lend a hand, and believe me, taking photos was the least of my concerns”.

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WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHY Silvia Zanardi