It’s a wonderful sunny day and I head straightaway to the Jason Bell photography exhibition after my university exam. Overlooking the Grand Canal, Fondaco Marcello is very simple but perfectly renovated, shining and minimalistic. During the 16thand 17th centuries it was a goods storage. This is reflected in the very basic space organization and the monumental wooden roofing. Now this space is dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions.

As I arrive they offer me Prosecco and invite me to enjoy the sun on the dock. The view onCanal Grande is stunning. I must admit that half of any exhibition in Venice is the experience of Venice itself.

There aren’t a lot of visitors. I ask the hostesses and they reply that I’m the first Italian visiting the exhibition that day: “Most visitors are tourists who got lost and came here by chance. This palace wasn’t meant to be reached on foot: during the 16th century, only boats could arrive. It is in fact quite difficult to find”.

The photos occupy all the four walls of the single room, from the floor to the top. It’s incredibly enveloping and a little chaotic since pictures are not separated but all continuous, like a collage. What I immediately notice is that almost every celebrity is caught when she or he is not looking straight at the camera. They seem naturally posing or caught in a moment of relaxation during the shooting. Léa Seydoux, in a black and white photo, is shot when brushing her hair with a hand, one of my favourite pictures. Jason Bell’s ability to capture those volatile moments is breath-taking.

The exhibition was inaugurated the night before. Jason Bell was present along with Italian and international celebrities. I ask waiters how he was. “Jason Bell was great. I’ve never served such a polite person… Very English I would say”, they reply to me laughing.

I try to find some traits of Bell’s personality by staring at his photos. There’s something in the way the celebrities are shot that conveys a sense of gentleness and delicacy. I feel that the photographer does not impose himself but rather reports nonchalantly. A few weeks ago when photographing the British royal family for intimate shots, he was asked, ”What did you want to convey with those pictures?”. “That they’re a normal family, like the others”.

I exit the palace and I realize that I fully understand the title of the exhibit just now. “Portraits”, not celebrities. The picture of Monica Bellucci is still in my mind. For the photographer she isn’t a celebrity anymore; he portrays her as if she were a wife, a mother, or a sister, gently.

by Margherita Tess