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Guardare Venezia: la città come dispositivo visuale


The hypothesis of this paper is that Venice has been and still is an extraordinary example of visual representations’ production and consumption. The identity of the city, as represented by tourist images, is the result of a long cultural process that has taken place since the Renaissance and continues to exert its effects even today.

The author uses visual sociology to analyze both a corpus of mass media images (photographs on websites, postcards, brochures, stock photography) and a visual documentation of the practices of tourists visiting Venice. Following this methodology, the article describes how pictures of the city have become one of the key drivers of mass tourism there, which is considered unsustainable by a portion of the resident community.

The first part of this approach (analysis of the images) concerns the urban icons, those that become standard generative models for other visual representations.  Some pictures are used to describe the genesis of the icons as well as their reproduction, distribution, and remediation throughout time.

The second part of the methodology (analysis with the images) concerns some documentation (photographs and videos) observing the performances of tourists in Venice. Mass tourism is described by its social practices of looking, gazing, photographing, and acquiring images. The focus is on the cycle of the production and consumption of cultural capital and icons through visual practices.

The article uses a selection of photographs as an integral part of research. Photographs, postcards, and artwork that have influenced the process of creating Venetian icons help in the investigation of the tourists’ relationships with the urban space and its residents, and they also help to explain the visual identity of the Serenissima in our collective imagination.

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