“Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go,” said Truman Capote, and we’re inclined to agree. The floating city is one of our favourite places in the world to soak in art and history - as well as a few Bellinis at Harry’s Bar, where Capote would sip cocktails with Mondo muse, Peggy Guggenheim.
Photographer and writer Marte Marie Forsberg is a woman after our own hearts. Her Italian photograph series captures the city in all its magical and mysterious glory, from lantern-lined alleyways with white-clothed tables to a lone, local gentleman enjoying the morning papers at Caffè Florian.
Forsberg has always found herself surrounded by beauty. The visual storyteller and author of The Cottage Kitchen cookbook hails from a fjord island in southern Norway and now lives in the English countryside, travelling the world whenever she can. We caught up with the fellow Venice-phile to chat creative inspiration, compelling photography subjects and travel to-dos.
What is it about Venice that sparks inspiration for you?
Ever since I first stepped off the train in Venice at the age of 17, and boarded a vaporetti to one of its islands, my heart has been lost in its magic, canals, history, food and architecture. To me, Venice is one of those few places left in the world that has quite an unspoilt beauty, where its history is still very much alive and preserved in many ways. Its artisans and craftsmen in everything from Murano glass to intricate Fortuny damask fabric, to marbled paper, boatbuilding and cicchetti, Venice fuels me in every way with inspiration to create, and to invest in preserving skills.
Can you please share your top five to-dos while in Venice?
Head to Rialto market in the morning to soak up on the food scene. It never fails to make me all kinds of excited to see all the wonderful in-season produce all hauled in on boats, on display. In addition to being a food fiend, I find so much visual beauty in a crate full of porcini in the autumn, and artichokes, fresh seafood and a sack of chestnuts on display.
Have breakfast at the Aman hotel, which feels like a real treat in the most beautiful of places. It might be a cliché, but I always make sure to have coffee and biscuits, or hot chocolate in Caffè Florian. I have a black and white book consisting entirely of scenes from the cafe photographed on a Leica by the incredible Italian photographer Gianni Berengo Gardin. It never fails to inspire me, both cafe and book, and it’s always on my desk for inspiration. Venice is a place for walking and getting lost, and for cicchetti and popping into a church or two when the sun is at its hottest, or the rain is washing out the streets. Visit Palazzo Fortuny which will take your breath away and inspire you to the brim with its beauty and incredible fabric collection. Hire a boat to take you out to the island of Burano for an afternoon wander and a bit of wind in your hair, it’s a treat, but so well worth it, both for the journey and the island. Burano feels a bit unspoilt and ever so refreshing, then head back to Venice as the sun sets, for dinner at Ristorante Al Covo. (https://ristorantealcovo.com/the-restaurant/) and because Hemingway knew a thing or two about classic and charming watering holes in the city, head to Harry’s bar for a cocktail or two, before wandering home a bit too late but with a happy smile on your face.
What do you look for in a photograph subject?
For my collection of travel photography, and my print series on Venice, I can spend days walking from morning to sunset with my little camera in hand, capturing what to me feels like scenes of life in the city. Fleeting moments of resting gondoliers, well dressed men in suits stepping in a puddle after a good rainstorm, iconic landmarks engulfed in thick sea fog during winter. I hope to capture the sound of Venice, the sound of flapping pigeons to the clinking sound of silver spoons meeting thick porcelain as sugar is stirred into a cup of espresso. It’s a looser style of photography where I don’t want to stage anything but rather just observe and capture fleeting moments. It’s a very different process to my chiaroscuro still life, where every little detail is painstakingly created, from selecting seasonal flowers, to adding bees and butterflies with large cocktail tweezers to create imaginal scenes with great attention to light, composition and detail.
Back Alley Scene, Venice, available at www.mmforsberg.com
What is your earliest/most formative memory?
I must have been around four when I was stopped in my tracks by whirling specs of dust in a beam of sunshine radiating through the wide-open double front door of my childhood home. My mother was shaking a weaved doormat outside, and the small particles of dust twinkled in the sunlight. It was perhaps an ever so mundane moment made magical, and it is the earlies memory I have of experiencing the power of light and what it can do in creating magic in the most unexpected places.
Where is next on your travel list, and why?
After not having visited for over two years, I’m longing to go back to Norway, firstly to visit family, but also to explore more with my English husband to be, who hasn’t really been outside of the capital and the fjord island my family lives on. I am of course biased, and I spent part of my twenties traveling extensively through Norway as a flight attendant for Scandinavian Airlines, but Norway is such a beautiful country with such a majestic and wild countryside, I never tire of its views. Lately there has been a surge of fantastic new restaurants celebrating our Norwegian food culture and incredible new hotels that I’m so looking forward to exploring. It may only have been a bit over two years since I visited last, but I really haven’t lived there since my early twenties, so much has changed and I’m excited to rediscover and old gem. I also really want to pop over to Sweden to my favourite little island of Gullholmen, the most densely populated island in Sweden but don’t let that fact fool you, it’s off the Swedish coast outside of Gothenburg and consists of the most charming cluster of white and red “stugor”, traditional old Swedish seaside homes with narrow little steps down to the water. The island has the best cinnamon buns in the world and can only be reached by a tiny ferry. It’s utter heaven there, and feels like you’re miles away from the world, and since we’d be driving (crossing fingers during these strange covid time), I would spend oodles of time antique shopping Swedish and Norwegian antiques to bring back home to England too. I suppose my immediate travel list consists of rediscovering old gems, rather than going on wild new adventures.
Tell us one thing few people know about you.
Most people mistake me for being very social and bubbly, but I’m actually quite the introvert, and need, love and thrive in my own company, and could happily spend weeks on end quietly pottering in my studio alone, and that my first real job before I began my studies was as a flight attendant for Scandinavian airlines, which was brilliant fun and took me all over the world.
Self-portrait, wearing Mondo Corsini Emilie dress.
You created a still-life series while in lockdown. How did you stay inspired?
Last year, during the first lockdown here in the U.K, which was such a strange time, as everyone was urged to return home from travels abroad, and the embassy of Norway asked if I wanted the last flight home to Norway. My parents now in their 80’s, luckily asked if they could spend it with me and my little family here in England, as they felt my older siblings with their families would all be safe and happy together on our fjord island in Norway. So they flew out to us and ended up spending over four months in our countryside cottage together. It was such a blessing to be together and I feel so grateful for their willingness to go against the wind and carve out an opportunity to be together during that wild first lockdown. It also gave me precious time to be alone as they, together with Theo, my husband to be, took care of our little daughter Emma who’s now three, and since all our photography workshops and photoshoots had been cancelled, I went into my little shed studio to create in a way I’ve never done before. I had time to stop the busy wheels and start again, creating with what was around me, to reexplore light and composition and to return to my art history days in Rome when I studied the works of Italian baroque painter Caravaggio. I took daily walks and made use of what I had around me in order to create. It forced me to be creative, to think outside the box and to approach photography in a new way for me. It was challenging and incredibly liberating to be given a change to hit reset, and from it grew a passion for creating still lifes, something I’m now able to include in my work and something that is shaping the future of my work as a photographer. Amidst difficult times, there’s always a light and silver lining, and it’s up to use to find it and grab hold of it with both hands. Lockdown brought unexpected joy and freedom to my work that I don’t think I would have allowed myself to explore if the world hadn’t stopped. Some of my still lifes are now available as prints for sale on my website.
A leather bound notebook without lines and good ink pen to scribble down ideas and notes, addresses to unique places I discover on my travels even if that is just around in my backyard at the moment, a good camera either my digital Canon 5D Mark IV or old Nikon analogue press camera, and let’s not forget the ever handy iPhone for research, social media, Pinterest and camera to capture snapshots or the world like a visual journal. Two beaten up black cardboards to blacken out and control the light within my studio, a well-used long cocktail tweezer to adjust bees and butterflies in my still lifes, museum wax for propping up and fasted flowers and props when I create, and masking tape for pretty much everything from shortening a skirt to fastening a cardboard to the wall where the light was too strong. And my new obsession in addition to my polaroid camera is a nifty little polaroid printer that can translate a hastily taken shot on my iPhone or a screenshot of something wonderfully inspiring into a polaroid for my ever growing mood board wall.