The keeper of the photographic collection “Cameraphoto Epoche”, Vittorio Pavan, recalls the history of Venice captured through photo shoots

15 September 2021

Venice, September 15, 2021- Celebrities swarming the Red Carpet throughout the years, during Venice Lido Film Festival, young boys diving into the Grand Canal, the massive floods of Venice on November 4 1966, elephants crossing bridges during the Circo Togni. The thousand faces of Venice captured in the “Cameraphoto Epoche” collection and held in proper boxes which pack away the past of more than 300.000 priceless negatives. Forty years of Venice existence snapped between 1946 and 1987. The keeper of this real treasure is Vittorio Pavan. 

He started doing this job almost by chance, when he was 14 years old, jumping from one studio to another, spreading the word that he was looking for a job, like people used to do. His long career started exactly at Cameraphoto, a Venetian photo agency founded in 1948 by Dino Jarach, between the likes of his masters Celio Scapin, Claudio Gallo, Walter Stefani and Claudio Stigher. 

“It felt like a dream. Watching photographers going back and forth the city- says Pavan. It was like me, watching pictures in my spare time, looking at all those famous celebrities’ portraits”. The real star of the collection is, in fact, the cinema itself. Here we can find the original famous shot of Paul Newman on a trip in a motorboat during the Venice Film Festival in 1963, with St. Mark Square in the background. But we can also find the portraits of Sean Connery driving a water taxi, and Sofia Loren overlooking the Grand Canal, or the great Alberto Sordi inside the Venice Art Biennale in 1958. Over time, much has changed in the photographic representation of the celebrities attending the Film Festival. 

“Once shooting movie stars was something intimate, something real- says Pavan-. At that time you could see celebrities walking around Venice, living Venice, and photographers could easily capture them, with the splendid view of the lagoon as a natural background”. Among all the shots that Pavan took during the Venice Film Festivals, from 1976 to 1984, the negatives of Sergio Leone are those to which he is more fond of. Perhaps it is because he was right next to the award-winning Italian director that Pavan watched the premiere of “Once Upon a Time in America”. 

But the collection is huge, and it doesn’t store just the art of cinema and its actors, but much, much more. Venice soul is preserved between those shots portraying a St. Mark square completely snowbound and frozen, in the middle of the last century, while almost like a crucial opposing point, an unusual Venice acts like a background to dromedaries crossing a bridge when the Togni circus was coming to town, in front of dazed workers digging a canal.  

How much hard work, study, mastery and authenticity stands behind the click of a button, this is what is shown through “Cameraphoto Epoche”, because although now photography has become a tool within the reach of anyone who owns a mobile phone, it used to be different. The freedom to shoot used to be limited by the film and the number of shots available, learning to look in the viewfinder used to be crucial. “The viewfinder- points out Pavan- is like a canvas that you have to know how to be in control of”. 

Photography as a timeless art, a mission, a passion, this is the kind of photography which these almost 300.000 printed shots represent. Shots that could be lost if not digitized as soon as possible. It has been twenty years since this scanning process and digital storing has begun, because the real goal, further than making these photoshoots accessible to anyone, is not to lose this precious treasure that, moreover, was declared to be of national interest by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities. 

One of his deepest hopes is to be able to save the collection to which Vittorio Pavan has dedicated, and still dedicates, his entire life. The same hope that he has often captured during his job as a photographer and that, looking through those black and white pictures, he can still find in a shot which portrait the arrival of Vietnamese refugees in Venice, taken by himself when he was still engaged in photojournalism. Airlifted from Tessera with a helicopter, he landed on the ship while it was still offshore, and he captured its arrival in Venice. “While I was taking those pictures, I had two children wrapped around my legs and one on my back. They came from misery, they were full of hope and plenty of people welcomed them, there was a crowd out there. I was there with them and I felt their pressure, arriving in Venice felt almost like a dream”.