Biography – This page, contains a brief description of my photographic life and notes on the development of my Images of Venice website
Ian Coulling FRPS
I was born on the 8th July 1947, in Lewisham, South East London.
For 30 years, I pursued a career in the National Health Service specialising in Histopathology and Cytology. Working in various teaching hospitals in and around London, photography became an everyday component of my working life; recording and documenting cases, preparing training and educational material and for publication and presentation.
A career in this branch of diagnostic pathology involved the visual analysis of tissue and cell samples by microscopy, using a wide variety of preparatory and staining techniques. The mind was trained to be highly analytical, often looking for the smallest evidence of change and working to the highest standards of accuracy, technique and quality control.
Running parallel to my working life was a love of the natural world, particularly the landscape; broadening one’s experience by the opportunity to travel. It seemed to have been a natural progression to transfer my photographic skills from work to pleasure.
The relevance to my personal photography became obvious: “analysis, interpretation, decision and execution”.
“It was not just about looking, but seeing”. “Making visible”. “Noticing things that others would pass by”. One of the joys of photography to me, is that ability to enter into a state of “enhanced consciousness or awareness”; where you appear to detach from the distractions of the outside world.
Serious photography needs concentration and an ability to rapidly analyse the scene that confronts you; to determine exactly what it is you want to show or bring out. I tend to favour simple and direct images, with close attention to the arrangement of the pictorial elements; that communicate your intentions to the viewer well.
I have always described myself as an amateur working to professional standards; enjoying the time and freedom to choose where to go and what to photograph.
A significant milestone was achieved in 1985, being awarded their highest honour; the Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society in the field of Pictorial Photography. At that time, I worked exclusively in monochrome, specialising in sepia, selenium and gold post-toning procedures. Fortuitously, I had often duplicated my work using colour and occasionally infra-red film stock.
An opportunity for early retirement arose, allowing me to further my passion for photography, art, music and the garden. Time allowed me to widen my photographic interests to include architecture, plant macro-photography and the continuation of my long-term project photographing Venice.
Unfortunately, sometime after retiring, an accident changed the photographic side of my life within a few seconds – I slipped and badly damaged one of my legs. After a year’s physiotherapy and slow recovery, the accident limited my ability to wander the wilderness and brought forward that sense of mortality that inflicts us all with age. Climbing a mountain is one thing; coming down it is quite another!
Furthermore, as my body gets older and the novelty of exhibiting and lecturing wears thin; more of my photographic attention has turned to Venice. Where else can you enjoy unlimited photographic potential, regularly interrupted by marvellous food and drink? When it pours down with rain, there’s always somewhere interesting to shelter and photograph.
“Images of Venice”, is a celebration of this wonderful city; the culmination of short visits over the years. The website contains both analogue and digital photographs; the former having been scanned in from film stock and digitally processed. The analogue images date back to 1975, whilst I moved over to digital image capture in 2009. I have tried to minimise any visual differences between the two media during processing, to give a consistency to the imagery within the website.
It has been a challenge to express a more personal vision, in what is probably the world’s most photographed city. Another important issue to overcome, is the ability to adapt to the rapidly changing weather and lighting conditions and to the sheer mass of humanity that descends on the city every day.
Moving from traditional analogue, film-based photography and darkroom skills into the digital age; brought significant benefits to working in the new media. For me, photography is not just about documentation (trying to represent “reality”); it is about imbuing the final image, whether on screen or in print with a degree of experience and sensation. Apart from a few images made for striking effect in one gallery, there is no false manipulation other than the removal of the widespread “Venice Affliction” – cigarette butts and dog excrement!
I must admit that I don’t have much of an inclination to visit in summer, not just for the mass of people or avoiding the heat; but that it doesn’t always suit my style of photography. “Stone – water – colour – texture”, is one of my mantra’s for Venice. Try dipping a stone or rock in water and see what comes out – colour and texture! Indeed, in dry and warmer periods many potential images would have been passed by.
Photography is inherently a rather personal and often solitary affair, but it would be satisfying to think that my images could touch upon the souls of others. I hope that in some small way, my photographs provide inspiration to look at, think about and perhaps re-evaluate this wonderful city.
When I first conceived the idea of this website, it was solely as a vehicle for my collection of Venetian photographs, built up over many years starting in 1975. However, as the site started to develop and with more online research, my focus changed into that of trying to develop a rather different approach from the usual plethora of “tourist-based” sites; combining images and highly informative and illustrated post, for lovers of Venice and fine photography. Researching, writing and illustrating posts was a new experience to master. Interestingly, Italians seem to write using long sentences and long paragraphs and seem to frequently over-use the word “and” to build their sentences and punctuate with mostly commas. Personally, I do not find this particularly conducive to on-screen understanding and learning – user fatigue is something to avoid in websites!
A priority was to give the site a clean and contemporary look, that did not distract from the imagery, worked across all platforms and was mercifully free of commercial interests. Other considerations for a single subject “image-dense” site, was the selection and arrangement of photos into themed galleries; to maintain visual variation and interest.
Finally, to significantly reduce costs by using the universal “Wordpress” publishing system with self-administration capability and modified with additional “plug-in” software; very necessary to achieve my design intentions for this image-dense site. Learning to live within its limitations, as the site developed; was another issue.
It was certainly challenging. How do you say something different about the world’s most photographed city and one featured in literally hundreds of other websites?
Several years down the line, the site has exceeded all my expectations and developed into a large resource, combining my photography with the history and culture of this remarkable city. A generic search for “images of Venice” on Google, finds my site on the first page, amongst names like Getty Images, Tripadvisor, Pixabay and Pinterest – quite a satisfying result for a totally non-commercial low-cost website and has justified my attempts to understand the mystery of search engine optimisation!
If there were any benefits so far, to the many months of “Covid-lockdown” and the anxieties and confusion, generated by our governing class; it has been to discover and perhaps prioritise, what is really important in life – our relationship with nature and what makes us human. This crisis gave me time to reflect and hopefully adapt; as well as build the site content up.
Venice, nestling in its own lagoon and inhabited by fishermen; first developed from local mainland peoples, fleeing from barbarian invaders. For 500 years, as a Republic, it rose to become one of the world’s greatest civilisations; enriching their society with great architecture, art and music. It was a triumph of resourcefulness over adversity. Who can have imagined that anyone would build such a civilisation, on several hundred small low-lying islands in the middle of a malarial infested tidal swamp?
The unfortunate fact historically, is that all our great civilisations; have sooner or later failed at some point. Venice must adapt to the 21st century, to thrive and ensure its survival.
We all need to learn from history, to move forward into the future; if we are to survive.