Portraits of the Pandemic: Alberto Giuliani and Italian healthcare workers.

When COVID-19 first swept through Europe during the spring, it hit Italy particularly hard. Frontline healthcare workers were quickly overwhelmed and, like their counterparts in Wuhan and New York City, worked around the clock, placing their wellbeing in danger. Many for sick. More of them wore the scars of long hours on their skin as facemask and giggles left imprints.

Italian photographer Alberto Giuliani documented the courageous hospital workers and their experiences through a series of portraits. He discussed the project with SCINQ.

Where were you when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Italy?

I was in Pesaro, the town where I was born. I moved back to this town last September, after 25 years spent living in different counties (last years between Milan and Florence). 

What were conditions like where you were? How was the mood in the community?

Pesaro has been among the three cities most affected by the virus in Italy. Like everywhere I guess, at the beginning people were bewildered before they were scared. During the first days, I had been asked by several magazines to take pictures of the town. I was wondering what I could take pictures of because streets were empty and shops were closed. The only life was inside our house (I have 3 kids). It was not clear what was happening and the disorientation gave way to fear. At that point, I decided to understand and I wanted to see the problem in its face. That’s why I decided to enter the intensive care unit of our main hospital.

What inspired you to begin the portrait project?

The silence of the intensive care unit I guess. I didn’t want to show people suffering on a bed. It’s assumed, already seen, and pointless in my opinion. The main news for me was the sense of helplessness of the doctors and nurses. They were lost like everyone else. And they were scared. I heard it in their words; I saw it in their eyes. Those deep mask marks were telling me about their wounds and their resilience. 

How did the healthcare workers react when you approached them with the portrait project?

Some of them were happy. It was something unexpected, unusual, something that for the first time in those days had nothing to do with death. And they were grateful for someone to tell their sacrifice. Others were totally absent mentally. At the end of their shifts, it was as if they were dull, devoid of all thoughts.

Their faces appear so battered by the experience. Did they discuss their experiences during the shoot? Feelings?

I asked them some thoughts. With some of them I spent more time. In the link below, you can find some “quotes” I took from them.

What are some of your favorite shots? Why?

I could chose a picture based purely on aesthetics, but in my opinion, all the pictures are a unique picture. So I don’t have a preferred one.

Why did you upload your work to WikiCommons? Many people would not have made that decision, especially with their work.

In an ideal world, photography must be free, for everyone. Especially when it can help us to remember, and not to repeat some dramatic mistakes.

Are you currently working on something now?

Of course! I went back to my previous pre-COVID-19 plans. I’m working on a big global project about love. In the mean time, I carry on my old work Surviving Humanity, about science and the future of humanity.

ALL IMAGES CREDIT: Alberto Giuliani

For more information about Alberto Giuliani and his work, check out his site or follow on Instagram @alberto_giuliani.


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