When confronted with the limits of the known world, a 16th-century European cartographer inscribed the warning “Here Be Dragons” on a small copper globe. Beware: What lies beyond is unexplored—and perilous.
I have spent my life photographing unknown worlds: the secret life of the geisha in Japan, the tragic landscape of human trafficking. Danger often lurked nearby. My assignment on Venice for National Geographic was the exception. Nothing about Venice is unexplored. Every brick, every doorway, and every one of its 400 bridges has been mapped and painted. Every photographer since the invention of the camera has lingered on those bridges and photographed gondolas and reflections on the canal water underneath. Venice posed no danger to me beyond the curse of the cliché.
My mission was to document the city’s vulnerability to water—the threat of flooding and how the Venetians were trying to prevent it. I made a few photographs of the reflections, but I was there to investigate the only unknown: Would Venice vanish underwater? Those reflections held no clues.