In February 1980, the French photographer, writer and performer Sophie Calle came to Venice to follow a man – Henry B. – she had coincidentally met in Paris and who had told her that he would have soon taken a trip to the Italian city.
The artist kept record of the streets and places she visited, documenting many of them with her photographs.
About forty years later, the Museo del Camminare has followed Sophie Calle who followed Henry B. in Venice, and – for the first time – identified the places she photographed, mapped her itineraries, and made them available to those who want to look for the feelings and emotions that the author experienced.Read
‘For months I followed strangers on the street. For the pleasure of following them, not because they particularly interested me. I photographed them without their knowledge, took note of their movements, then finally lost sight of them and forgot them’.1
Thus the French photographer, writer and performer Sophie Calle described the idea behind her project Suite Vénitienne, which became her first artist’s book in 1983. Along with her idea, Calle came to Venice on 11 February 1980 to follow a man – Henry B. – she had briefly met in Paris a couple of weeks earlier and who had told her about his forthcoming trip to the Italian city.
Her first impression of Venice was consistent with her project: she felt herself at the ‘labyrinth’s gate’, and ‘ready to get lost in the city and in this story’.2 It took her about four days to track Henry B.’s hotel, whereupon she began following him and his partner through the calli and campi of the city for around two weeks. The artist kept record of the streets and places she visited, documenting many of them with her photographs.
About forty years later, the Museo del Camminare has followed Sophie Calle who followed Henry B. in Venice. The outcome is a mapped itinerary that allows the “following followers” to re-live the visual and non visual experience of the artist. It also allows one to re-enact her fascinating method of discovering an unknown city by giving an artistic value to a practice which is very different from a chance-based process and much more interesting than it. It is close to that combination of chance and planning that, according to the French situationist Guy Debord, was at the core of the concept of ‘drift’.3
Calle’s method origins from a “casual” act, becomes a research project and, as such, turns itself into a driving force – ‘un moteur’, as the artist has often emphasised – for a powerful existential experience. The aim is twofold. On the one hand, it allows one to engage in the anthropological discovery of an unknown other, unveiling choices, habits, and mindset. A key motif of her artistic research, this approach led Calle to speculate about strangers’ lives by composing their imaginary biographies and even to investigate her own life, as in the project Shadow, in which she hired a private detective to follow and describe herself. On the other hand, it provides one with a peculiar travel guidance and exploration tool. Calle once explained her project of following strangers in the streets as follows: ‘I thought maybe they will bring me in neighbourhoods I will not have idea to go to, in places I will not have the desire to go to’.4
In sum, it combines the fascination of entering someone’s life, with the excitement of escaping from the habits of one’s own mind for the exploration of new places.
With this in mind, the Museo del Camminare has put itself in Sophie Calle’s shoes… and walked through Venice. The outcome is the two itineraries below, which one can access by clicking on the red words. Click on the icons in the map to pop up Calle's photos, and on the title of the pop-ups to go back to this page.
This first part of Sophie Calle’s itinerary begins in the neighbourhood of Dorsoduro and, specifically, at the Locanda Montin – still open to date – in which she took room 1 after her arrival in Venice on 12 February 1980. She would stay at the Locanda for the entire duration of her project and would have most of her dinners there.
A narrow alley nearby – Calle del Forno – struck her attention and she photographed it.
The same day of the arrival she made a short trip to Piazza San Marco, and it was only the following day that she began tracking Henry B.’s location.
In disguise with dark glasses, a scarf, and – for the evening stroll and a whiskey at Harry’s Bar – a blonde wig, she looked for him at the local police station and all luxury hotels: Savoia, Canaletto, Londra, Danieli, San Marco, but the answer was no. On 15 February, after calling up more than 120 hotels, she eventually found him at the Pensione Casa de Stefani, in Calle del Traghetto, a third-class pension then, nowadays the three-star hotel Locanda San Barnaba.
She spent the morning of the two following days waiting for him in Calle del Traghetto, but he did not show up. Thus, in the afternoon, she left to Piazza San Marco, where, on the 17th had a drink at the Caffè Florian.
She went back to Calle del Traghetto on Monday 18, and eventually, at 10.05 a.m., the door of the pension opened, Henry B. appeared with a woman holding on to his arm, and the tailing began.
Calle followed Henry B. and the woman from Calle del Traghetto to Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni, near the Rialto Bridge. In between, they went through Campo San Barnaba, Ponte dei Pugni, Rio Terà Canal, Campo Santa Margherita, Calle de la Chiesa, Ponte San Pantalon, Campiello Mosca, Salizada San Pantalon, Rio del Gaffaro, Fondamenta dei Tolentini, Campo dei Tolentini, Calle dei Amai, Calle de le Chiovere, Campo San Rocco, Calle Larga Prima, Campo San Tomà, Calle del Traghetto, Campiello San Tomà, Ponte San Tomà, Rio Terà dei Nomboli, Calle dei Saoneri, Ponte San Polo, Salizada San Polo, Campo San Polo, Sotoportego and Ponte de la Madoneta, Calle de la Madoneta, Campiello dei Meloni, Calle de Mezo, Campo Sant’Aponal – close to which, in Campo San Silvestro, Calle took one of the most iconic photos of her book –, Calle de l’Ogio o de la Rugheta, and Ruga Vecchia San Giovanni up to the intersection with Ruga dei Oresi (the Goldsmiths Street), where the woman accompanying Henry B. entered the building of the then Banco di Roma, today the Unicredit Bank.
Calle gave up then, at 11.25 a.m., after having taken ‘a glimpse of one hour in Henry B.’s life’.5
In the afternoon, under the clock of Piazza San Marco, Calle met a friend, Luciana C., who told her to have spotted a man corresponding to Calle’s description of Henry B. at the Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco. Her friend was right and Calle took a picture of Henry B. and the woman with him through the Florian’s window.
At 6.00 p.m., the two left the cafe and Calle followed them in Piazza San Marco – where they stopped to see the windows of the shop of the Venetian glassware Pauly and C. Then Calle seconda de l’Ascension, Calle Frezzeria and Piscina de Frezzeria, where at 6.15 p.m. the couple entered the Luigi's antique shop at number 1656. Calle waited for them, freezing, in the street, in front of the La Colomba Restaurant. At 8.10 p.m., a passerby asked her if she needed any help and she told him that she was waiting for a man she was in love with, as ‘only love seems admissible’, as she wrote in her book.6.
At 8.45 p.m., the couple left the shop and she followed them through Calle de Frezzeria, Calle seconda de l’Ascension and Calle Vallaresso, where they all boarded the vaporetto to Accademia. After walking around the church of Santa Maria de la Carità, the couple went to the Trattoria ai Cugnai, 857 Calle Nuova Sant’Agnese. She saw them sitting down at a table, and then, at 9.30 p.m., she went back to her pension.
In the morning of the following day, 19 February, she spent one hour between 10 and 11 a.m. at the Bar ai Artisti, in Campo San Barnaba waiting from him to pass, with no result. She gave up and went to Luigi’s antique shop in Piscina di Frezzeria, where she introduced herself as a friend of Henry B. Later, she met a friend of a friend, Mr S., a Venetian, at the Caffè Florian and at 1.30 p.m. she met Mr C and two other professors near the Accademia and had lunch with them at a restaurant nearby.
Then she walked randomly through the city looking for Henry B., but ‘This method is basic, easy, and relaxing, even if it has proven less than efficient’.7
At 3.20 p.m., she saw him in the middle of Campo Sant’Angelo photographing a group of children playing and she also took pictures of them. The woman joined Henry B. and the ‘journey began’8: Campo Sant’Angelo, Calle del Spezier, Ponte de la Cortesia – from which he pointed to the canal to show something to the woman and Calle took a picture in the same direction – Campo Manin, where the couple split and Calle followed Henry B. in Campo Sa Luca, Calle de le Balanze, Calle dei Fabri, Calle del Teatro o de la Comedia, Ponte del Lovo, Calle del Lovo, Campo San Salvador – where they stopped for a while in front of the Credito Italiano – then Calle Marzarieta due Aprile, Campo San Bortolomio, Salizada San Grisostomo, where she followed him inside the central post office, at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. After hiding behind a column to take pictures of him, she followed him out of the post office to Ponte de l’Ogio, Calle del Teatro o de l’Opera, Corte seconda del Milion, Sotoportego del Milion – ‘a dark and nauseating archway that serves as a garbage dump’9 –, Ponte del Teatro o Marco Polo, on which he stopped to take photos of the canal or, perhaps, Marco Polo’s house.
Afraid that he could notice her, she walked past him and hid herself in an entryway waiting for him. As he did not show up, she went back to the bridge, where she saw him resuming walking. Before following him she had time to take pictures of the canal and the house. Then Calle Scaletta, Campo Santa Marina, Calle del Cristo, Ponte del Cristo, Fondamenta Van Axel – where he asked a passerby to take a photo of him posing in front of Palazzo Van Axel –, Calle de le Erbe, Ponte Rosso, and then Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with the equestrian monument in the centre and the hospital on the side. She followed him inside the hall of the hospital and they almost brushed each other before exiting the building. Then Ponte Cavallo, on the steps of which he sit and looked to her, who circled the equestrian monument pretending to study it before leaving the Campo, walking along the hospital’s right wing, and finally leaning against a column with the eyes closed.
When she opened her eyes again, Henry B. was in front of her and said: “Your eyes, I recognize your eyes; that’s what you should have hidden”.10 Then he photographed her and asked if she wanted to walk together with him. They took the Fondamenta dei Mendicanti until the dock along the Laguna Morta, with San Michele cemetery in the distance. As he had an appointment in Piazza San Marco, they took a vaporetto without exchanging a word and once in front of the Caffè Florian they simply said goodbye to each other. She took a photo of him while walking away under the arcades.
Calle’s pursuit of Henry B. through Venice ended here. In the morning of the following day, she went to Piazza San Marco and had her photograph taken in front of St Mark’s Basilica – the photo that features in the cover of this webpage. In the afternoon, she learned from the antique dealer Luigi that Henry B. was in Venice with the purpose of taking photographs for the book of an English writer and, by checking the shop’s guest book, she found his address in Paris. On the 23, she learned that Henry B.’s departure date was set in the evening of that same day with the 9.15 train to Paris. By boarding an early train via Bologna, she managed to get to Paris a few minutes before his arrival and, on Sunday 24 February at 10.08 a.m., she photographed him one last time at the Gare de Lyon in Paris.
Cover image: Sophie Calle in St Mark Square, digital elaboration, photo Sophie Calle, in Calle, Sophie; Baudrillard, Jean, Suite Vénitienne / Sophie Calle. Please Follow Me / Jean Baudrillard, Seattle, Bay Press, 1988 (1st ed. Paris, Éditions de l'Étoile, 1983).
Sliding images: frames from the film Nouvelle Suite Vénitienne. Directed by Pascal Kanè; starring Anne Alvaro; writers Sophie Calle and Pascal Kanè. Les Films d'Ici, 1984.
All photos: Sophie Calle, in Calle, Sophie; Baudrillard, Jean, Suite Vénitienne / Sophie Calle. Please Follow Me / Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., except the photo of the Locanda Montin by MdC.
1. Calle, Sophie, Suite Vénitienne / Sophie Calle. Please Follow Me / Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 2.
2. Ibid., p. 6.
3. see Sadler, Simon, The Situationist City, London-Cambridge (Ma), Mit, 1999.
4. ‘Sophie Calle’, The South Bank Show, Episode 3, 2005.
5. Calle, Sophie, Suite Vénitienne / Sophie Calle. Please Follow Me / Jean Baudrillard, op. cit., p. 30.
6. Ibid., p. 38.
7. Ibid., p. 44.
10. Ibid., p. 50.
© Museo del Camminare 2020, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0