Venetian Melanzane in Saor and a talk in the garden about “chiaroscuro” photography


On the train which takes me back home after spending some days with my dear Valentina, I thought about the pictures I took before leaving and that are now waiting for me, in the messy folder of “unfinished things” on my desktop.
Lately, the summer light leads me to explore some new arrangements and corners of my home, but especially my beautiful garden that in this season turns into a kind of lush oasis where the plants give their best.
The golden light calls us outside our dark rooms only after 7 pm, when the air becomes lighter and the breeze – that smells like the lagoon – gently moves the higher tree tops.



Italian houses are generally not so bright inside, especially the old ones and especially in Venice. Windows are not so wide and very often they have different shapes and dimensions. They’re square, round, straight or slanting, with or without shutters. Heavy drapes and velvet curtains obscure most of the windows of Venetian palaces; even walls are covered with precious tissues like damasco or broccato veneziano.
So many times I’ve been asked how do I manage light in my pictures, how do I get that chiaroscuro that has become so recognizable and much glorified in my work. Well, you know.. when you are surrounded by a particular environment that facilitates some specific light conditions, these conditions somehow end up circumscribing the photographic possibilities you can have in that precise place.
In the same way, pretty much everything that surrounds us – that is part of our lifestyle, our culture, our roots and in general our way of being – pours more or less subconsciously on the creative work, on the photographic work in my case.
My own nature and my approach to photography have always made me particularly interested in mise-en-scene, where I am the one who can build the image in its entirety, acting pretty much on everything (content-composition-light) rather than seeking the “right” shot into reality around me.


When I set up a scene, I can make real what I had just imagined, I have the illusion of creating a little world having the exclusive power to choose how I want it to be.
In this world I find everything that formed me, as a photographer and as a person.
I find all the artists who have inspired me, the chiaroscuro of the Great Masters’ canvases, the history of my family, my memories and my fantasies, even through the props I use, which often they arrive from times and places far away.
I personally feel myself honest in what I do because I never try to push my work and my research into a style or a photographic genre, I simply give voice to a condition, which is my own, that allows me to explore first of all my identity, as a photographer.
I can give form to my natural predisposition for researching beauty, and I can just do it with my gaze, with my heart, and with everything that is part of me. It couldn’t be otherwise.
The Venetian opulence and its decadence, the link to Art History and to the history of Painting in my case, are relevant conditions that surely have to do with what I can somehow define as “my photographic world” –  not only that, of course.




Something like four or five years ago, when for the first time I discovered a dark corner of my house which was perfect for my first still life shots, where just after 6 pm and just for exactly 27 minutes the light was “the right one”, I still hadn’t seen nothing of the sort.
The so-called food photography in its “moody” declination was something so far from me that I barely knew what I was doing.
Food was still a pretext to study light, and somehow it has always been that way. My limited culture in the field of food photography was compensated only by my culture about the History of Photography and my keen interest for contemporary authors like Joan Foncuberta, Roger Ballen, Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman and a thousand more, who are mostly closer to the Contemporary Conceptual Art world.
At that time everything I’d seen and liked was contained in the first book of Katie Quinn Davies, the very first precursor of the genre, so I can say that I almost hadn’t any influence from outside, in this respect.





So I started and so I lost myself into the lights and shadows of my photography, finding inspiration into the old books which were stained by moulds in my parents’ ateliers.
The XVII century is the golden age of still life paintings, especially for the great artists of Northern Europe, but also those in Italy and Spain.
The artists that for years have echoed in my head like glorious heroes are Juan Sanchez Cotán, Jan Davidsz de Heem, Sebastian Stoskopff, Pieter Claesz, Georg Flegel… and of course the well known Jan van Eyck, Jan Vermeer, Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio) and many, many others.
What happened was that after about two years this genre – which had been more or less clumsily applied to still life/food, with rare exceptions – became a “style” to cling to in order to acquire a recognizable identity, often resulting in a heavy and exaggerated mannerism.
I personally feel trapped today in a vicious circle where I sometimes become a caricature of myself, when mannerism chokes like a heavy but comfortable blanket any new and uncomfortable exploration of the unknown.
So in my dark spot, which has expanded over the years to other parts of my home according to the seasonal variations of light, I sometimes doubt – as I usually do – if my work is really authentic. Maybe I have seen too much. And when you see too much and external stimuli hit continuously, the path of creative honesty can become dangerously curvy.



There is a rebel part inside of me which coexist with my tidy, methodical and meticulous side. When things become too conventional and inflated, a part of me feels like running towards the farthest thing I can find.
…While darkness stubbornly wanders around confusing and even boring me a little, I react by opening the windows. Since it is not enough, I go outside in my garden because, after all, if you’re in search of authenticity you can always found new resources within yourself, even when you’re outside!
Dedicated to summer, to light, to the evenings with your friends, to those who still feel the need to change and play.
Dedicated to those who love eating. To those who love.



Venetian Melanzane in Saor (Sweet and Sour eggplants)
*Melanzane in Saor is a vegetarian variation of one of the most traditional venetian recipe: Sarde in Saor, which is an appetizer made of fried sardines topped with sweet and sour white onions. The procedure to make Melanzane in Saor is pretty much identical to the one to make sardines, and in the same way you can also make other vegetables like zucchini or peppers.
Cuisine: Venetian
(For 4-5 persons)
  • 1 kg di eggplants (ideal quality: black round or long type, with few seeds)
  • 1 kg of white onions
  • ½ glass of white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup of raisins
  • 100 gr of pine nuts
  • ½ tsp of sugar
  • 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 glass of water
  • 1 cup of coarse salt
To fry the eggplants, as needed:
  • Ground-nut oil
  • Super fine flour
  • Salt
* For a lighter / healtier version you can replace fried eggplants with grilled eggplants, the result will be different but equally good!
  1. Place the raisins in a bowl and cover with warm water, then soak them until needed. Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry pan over a medium heat.
  2. Wash and dry the eggplants and slice them into ½ cm thick.
  3. Lay out the eggplants in a colander, alternating the slices with a handful of coarse salt, making sure they're all sprinkled well.
  4. Place an heavy plate over the eggplants and let them purge from their bitter water for at least 30 minutes.
  5. In the meantime go ahead by washing and peeling the onions, then slice them very finely.
  6. Heat a frying pan with over a medium-low heat and add 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Add the onions together with the glass of water and cook them slowly for at least 15/20 minutes, stirring every now and then.
  7. Add half glass of white vinegard and half teaspoon of sugar and cook on low heat until reduced for at least other 10 minutes until the onions result well cooked and slightly caramelized but not mushy. Keep them aside.
  8. Rinse the eggplant slices and dry them very well with paper towel. Heat the oil into a frying pan.
  9. Dust the eggplant slices in flour and deep fry in plenty of oil until golden and crisp. Season with salt and set aside on some paper towel to drain until needed.
  10. Once all the ingredients are ready, proceed by placing a layer of aubergines in a small terrine, deep plate or a tray and top them with some of the onions, a small handful of (drained) raisins and pine nuts. Continue layering until the aubergines are used up. The final level must be topped with onions, raisins and pine nuts.
  11. Cover with plastic wrap and let it marinate in the fridge at least for one night before serving. They'll become tastier the longer you'll keep them in the fridge!
  12. Serve at room temperature and consume them within a week.










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  • Avatar
    Reply Debora 24/07/2017 at 18:48

    E’ un’estate romantica e sognante quella che si respira qui da te….
    Rimango incantata dalla tua luce e dal tuo giardino. Sei sempre più brava. Soprattutto perchè ogni tuo singolo scatto racconto molto di più ditante parole.
    Ti auguro buone vacanze

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 26/07/2017 at 15:15

      Ciao Debora! Non sai che felice mi fai, grazie grazie grazie!!! Buone vacanze anche a te! xxxx

  • Avatar
    Reply Elisabetta P 25/07/2017 at 2:45

    sei incredibilmente brava. complimenti sia per le fotografie che per le storie che raccontano e il cibo che esaltano. un saluto da Firenze

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 26/07/2017 at 15:14

      Grazie Elisabetta!! <3 Che bella Firenze, spero di tornarci verso settembre! xxxx

  • Avatar
    Reply Yvette 25/07/2017 at 10:06

    Such an inspiring post! Thank you so much for sharing. You are an artist.

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 26/07/2017 at 15:13

      So happy to hear that! Thank you for reading and for your kind words!

  • Avatar
    Reply Ilaria (Campi di fragole per sempre) 26/07/2017 at 18:48

    Davvero un sogno queste foto.

  • Avatar
    Reply Simonetta 27/07/2017 at 12:22

    Sai cogliere il meglio della luce e riesci a dare significato alle ombre. Artista che invece del pennello utilizzi un obiettivo!
    Bravissima Zaira, che bella scoperta che sei per me!

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 30/07/2017 at 11:16

      Che complimento meraviglioso, grazie Simonetta! <3

  • Avatar
    Reply Katrin Bjork 27/07/2017 at 23:16

    What a beautiful post, you pictures are truly stunning.

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 30/07/2017 at 11:18

      You are kind! Thank you very much Katrin, I am so happy you like them!

  • Avatar
    Reply Dee 28/07/2017 at 17:18

    Gorgeous photos. I think you have such a unique style that it shines through in all your photographs, whether they’re light or darker.

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 30/07/2017 at 11:22

      I am so very glad to hear that, thank you thank you!!! Big hugs

  • Avatar
    Reply elise 03/08/2017 at 11:25

    Goodness, Zaira … the way you can put this into words! It’s beautiful and true and so very recognizable. The boundaries between what we do because they feel true to us and what we do because we know that it works, or we think it’s expected from us … they can be so blurry sometimes. I definitely struggle with this, too. But it’s good to rebel from time to time, and I’m happy that your garden gives you the opportunity to reconnect! My own garden has offered a little respite, too, although I think modernist architecture and the light there do that even more for me. They give me something else to play with, take me out of all the food photography mannerisms and inspirations, and I am always genuinely excited to see those images of mine … an excitement that I don’t always have if I’ve been doing food for too long (I still have it with food, too, of course, luckily). Anyway, I think that kind of excitement tells you if something truly came from within, and it’s something I’m trying to strive for more and more. Such a long long comment to say that I am bookmarking this post to come back to every time I am in doubt about what I’m doing 🙂 (Also, PS, that photo of you holding the basket with eggplants? So, so, so gorgeous!!)

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