LOCKDOWN Italia: the first photographic exhibition of COVID-19’s emergency in Italy

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The Italian lockdown is shown through the eyes of 30 artists from 11 countries in a photo exhibit by the Foreign Press Association at the Capitoline Museums


By Sabrina Italia / Staff Writer

Photos of exhibit are used with permission of the Associated Press and Agence France-Presse  

ROME—The Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Italy hosted, “LOCKDOWN Italia as seen by the Foreign Press,” an international photographic exhibition held at Palazzo dei Conservatori in the Capitoline Museums from Oct. 8 until its temporary suspension by the decree enforcing the closure of museums for the sake of preventive measures. Over 70 photographs depict the suffering, resilience, and real living conditions in Italy during its first lockdown and the gradual readjustment after this period.  

The exhibit was curated by Chris Warde-Jones, a freelance editorial photographer from the UK raised in Rome, and Víctor Sokolowicz, an independent photojournalist from Buenos Aires, Argentina, based in Rome.

“LOCKDOWN Italia” features the work of 19 Italian photographers from Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), The Associated Press (AP), Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the FPA. The event was promoted by Roma Capitale, Assessorato alla Crescita Culturale, Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali along with the Italian Foreign Press Association (Associazione della Stampa Estera in Italia)

Jones said he wanted to challenge freelance photographers from the Foreign Press and other international agencies “to capture the essence of pandemic.” Once it was informed that the exhibit was of non-commercial nature, they all contributed to the project.  

“We had all been working hard at reporting on the pandemic and it seemed a pity not to take advantage of all the dramatic photographs which had been produced,” said Jones.  

The president of the Foreign Press Association in Italy, Trisha Thomas, said in the event’s press release, that “the purpose of the exhibit was to promote Italy as worldwide example of emulation regarding the management of the COVID-19’s health crisis.” 

“As Foreign Press correspondents, we conveyed how Italians have faced the COVID-19’s health crisis with courage, discipline and solidarity,” said Thomas. 

The Exhibition

Photo by Domenico Stinellis, Luca Bruno and Antonio Calanni. Shot in Rome, Bergamo, and Brescia for AP.  

The exhibition was articulated in two different sections, corresponding to the two rooms that display images evoking memories from life during lockdown. 

As a reminder of the hardships that Italy underwent during COVID-19’s outbreak, the first section is devoted to what Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte wrote for the exhibit’s catalogue preface: “silent heroes.” 

Conte’s tribute refers to the doctors and nurses that during the lockdown’s economic crises, provided continuous care and assistance to families in needs. 

The second section, instead, is dedicated to the gradual reawakening of Italy after the three-and-a-half months of enforced lockdown. The photographs show the citizens’ effort to go back to living a semi-normal life despite the fear of an incoming second wave of contagion.  

To read the full AP news story, “PHOTOS: Italy’s front-line medical heroes,” in portraits, click here.

Walking Through Phase One

In the first section among images unraveling phase one, the pictures frame COVID-19’s intensive care unit patients receiving medical treatment jointly with health care assistants worn out due to exhaustive work shifts.   

Aside from the images figuring the dramatic conditions of Italian hospitals between March and April, the peak times of the virus’ outbreak, the exhibit displays photographs of Italian “ghost cities.” 

 Guglielmo Mangiapane, Reuters photographer captured the juxtaposition between the Colosseum’s magnificence and the emptiness of its site, breaking with the well-known scene of tourists taking selfies and couples kissing with the Flavian Amphitheatre in the background.  

Italian JCU student Mariolina Falone attended the exhibit during the opening week.  

“When I saw the photo of the empty Colosseum, I had a strange feeling thinking that months before I was looking at the same picture in a TV report featuring the city of Rome during pandemic,” said Falone. “At the same time, this image also filled me up with energy. With its majesty, the Colosseum is a metaphor for the need to build resilience during unprecedented historical moments,” she added.

The emptiness of the “eternal city” was echoed in many other shoots from the exhibit. 

Remo Casilli, Reuters stringer photographer from Rome, reflects on the effort of reporting on how his natal city was dealing with such a complex human crisis: 

“My greatest effort in telling about the city of Rome during so difficult times was one of priding its values and universal spirit, its symbolism, offering the world a portrayal of its great resistance to any adversity.”

Overcoming the challenges of social distancing, the photographers showcased at the exhibit gathered moments of reciprocal love and humanity across different Italian cities, showing that the pandemic’s phase one was also a moment of solidarity and sense of community across the country.

Reuters photojournalist from Naples, Ciro de Luca, took an emblematic photograph of the humanitarian values captured during phase one. In the photo, a man is about to walk past a basket of food made available for the neediest ones. This moment was shot in the historical city center of Naples, another Italian city overwhelmed by the pandemic. 

Furthermore, the first room hosts many other images depicting hope and resilience. Among these, a photo by Agence France-Presse photojournalist, Filippo Monteforte, frames the Senatorial Palace at the Capitoline Hill illuminated by the colors of the Italian flag.  

Photo by AFP photographer Filippo Monteforte.

Walking Past Phase Two 

The second room of the exhibit is dedicated to the coping strategies and resilience of handling the pandemic. In this room, the colors are brighter, and representation is not limited to the confining space of the house but extends over many different social contexts, as a sign of cathartic re-birth after phase one.   

Casilli captured the idea of the “new normal” in the portrayal of a personal trainer exercising with her neighbors from the opposite building. This image speaks for the many Italians demonstrating their adaptation to the lockdown by scheduling home workouts in response to the closure of gyms and the ban on team sports.   

Another photograph testifying a gradual return to a condition of semi-normality is one by Italian Lebanese photographer for Reuters, Yara Nardi, figuring a woman wearing the protective face shield while drinking coffee in a bar during the first days following the re-opening of commercial activities. 

“I believe this photo tells a lot about the Italian attachment to tradition. It clearly shows how important is to value the little things making up the fabric of life,” said Falone. 

AP photojournalist Luca Bruno captured a visitor taking a picture of “The Kiss” (1859) by
Francesco Hayez in the Brera Museum, Milan on June 9

Towards the end of the exhibit, the curators reserved a small section entirely to the effort and commitment of reporters and photographers working during different stages of the pandemic, especially field reporters who had to adapt to the COVID-19’s safety protocol when being in the front line in contact with people. 

 “As photojournalists and reporters, we had great problems of displacement, of authorizations to enter the sanitary structures but also fear against an unknown and invisible enemy,” said Casilli. 

Despite the exhibition being originally planned to be free of charge, visitors had to purchase tickets from the Capitoline museums or  enter with a MIC card because the ticket included entry to the exhibit, The time of Caravaggio

 “The lockdown has led to a reflection on the tourist flows, but we have noticed that Italians kept approaching the museums of their cities, the villages, the natural beauty of their territories,” said a staff member at Musei Capitolini. 

In October, Caselli commented on the uncertainty of museum visits during that period: “To me, given the times we are living, it is extremely difficult to make a specific prediction about affluence or even identify a targeted audience for this exhibit.” 

Future plans for the exhibit or new projects by the FPA remain uncertain after the temporary closure on Nov.3.

“At the moment, however, it is premature to think about the realization of a new project,” said Sokolowicz a day before the closure of museum by the DPCM on Nov. 3. “We follow the fate of the current exhibition, which, to my surprise, was extended of two months by the Capitoline Museums and is now in danger of closing because of the new measures following the worsening of COVID-19’s epidemic.”  

The exhibition was meant to run until Jan. 10 of next year. 

Photos of exhibit taken by: Sabrina Italia. Interviews translated by the writer. 

Sabrina Italia is a senior Communications major with a Psychology minor from Salerno. We thank her for her contribution to The Matthew over the past year and congratulate her on her upcoming graduation. Contact her at: sitalia@johncabot.edu.