Editor’s letter / Global
Pictures of life’s other side
Whether the subject is modern warfare or the evolving identity of an old European city, we’ve always believed in the power of sending out photographers and writers to capture the realities on the ground. Look closely and see what you’ll discover, writes editor in chief Andrew Tuck.
For this issue’s Expo (see here) we are in Venice, a city whose good looks, palazzos with secret gardens, Renaissance riches and canal-laced neighbourhoods have seduced generations of visitors. But those good looks come with a big downside: they pull in vast, selfie-stick-swishing hordes who spend little on local businesses and swarm around the most social-media-postable sites. It’s why many believe that Venice is at risk of turning into a theme park – one that its denizens don’t want to spend time in.
But when the pandemic hit, almost overnight, the city was cloaked in a silence unknown for decades; a silence some days punctuated only by church bells, the slap of water from a passing aquatic taxi, a kid kicking a ball in an empty square. The visitors who, as restrictions eased, finally made it back were often entranced by this hushed Venice. Would it be possible, some wondered, to stop the cruise-ship crowds from ever returning? Could the numbers of people allowed to visit the city each day be limited? A few modest controls on cruise ships have been enacted but Venice finds it hard to wean itself off mass tourism. So what will happen?
To catch this fork-in-the canal moment, we dispatched photographer Andrea Pugiotto and writer Laura Rysman to Venice to meet the chefs, craft workers and hoteliers who want to create a different city. Of course, there’s a paradox here: look at Pugiotto’s pictures of a mellow, spring-lit Venice and you’ll want to go. You’ll wish you were there. But there’s also a bigger debate to be had about how Europe sees itself today and how it should offer up its past.
This is a key theme of Dutch author Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer’s best-selling book, Grand Hotel Europa, which is just out in English. It’s a love story and a celebration of his adopted hometown of Genoa but also a novel that looks at how tourism can buckle our cities, with Venice the saddest example. Georgina Godwin interviews Pfeijffer in this issue (see here). But back to Andrea Pugiotto.
Pugiotto is one of a long line of great photographers who have been commissioned for monocle’s Expo assignment, a unique gallery space in the magazine where it’s often the photographer, not the writer, who leads the way. These powerful visual stories form the backbone of our new book The Monocle Book of Photography: Reportage from Places Less Explored. This glorious print outing looks back at the city of Aleppo before much of it was destroyed by the war in Syria; it takes you to meet Greek naval cadets who signed up to represent their country even as a political crisis threatened the nation’s identity; and it also takes you to crazy festivals in Thailand and Switzerland. It’s a celebration of the power of the image and the subtlety and nuance that a photographer can add to a story (to buy a copy, head to monocle.com/shop).
This issue is also once again shaped by the war in Ukraine. Helsinki correspondent Petri Burtsoff, working with photographer Juho Kuva, gained access to Nato’s Cold Response exercises in Norway (see here). Though planned long before the Russian attack on Ukraine, they took on a renewed significance and symbolism after it. Burtsoff looks beyond the impressive kit to ask some bigger questions about Nato’s role and future.
To get more perspectives on what’s unfolding, we also travelled east. First we went to the Antalya Forum, a diplomatic and policy-wonk gathering, to assess Turkey’s efforts to be an honest broker between the Russians and Ukrainians (see here). Our other trip east was taken by Alexis Self, who headed to Tbilisi to meet young Russians who have sought refuge in the Georgian capital (see here). Their plight, as they all stress, is nothing in comparison to that of Ukrainians; yet it’s another of the endless ripples spreading outwards from this barbaric war.
As always, we also want to look at simple fixes, benchmarks of quality and ideas that are worth adopting. It’s vital that we stay engaged with the world. The Monocle Design Awards (see here) reveal our pick of the 50 best projects and most inspiring people in the design world. Elsewhere we look at the rise of French manga (see here), the future of the newspaper (see here) and how the Dutch are exporting their cycling know-how (see here).
This richness of debate and reporting is something that we like to see happening off the page too. Our Quality of Life Conference for 2022 will be at Le19M, a new craft and innovation centre in Paris that is home to some of Chanel’s finest creative partners. There’s a welcome reception on Thursday 2 June; the main conference day is Friday 3. To find out more, visit monocle.com/conference. And, as ever, thank you for reading monocle. Feel free to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.