Snite Museum of Art acquires work by Magnum photographer Alex Majoli

Author: Gina Costa

Alex Majoli

The Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame has added a photograph by Magnum photographer Alex Majoli from his "The Eye of the Storm" series. Created in Novara, Italy, in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, "Scene #2756, Novara, Italy, 2020" captures the moment when a priest blesses coffins that have just arrived at the cemetery by Italian Army trucks from nearby Bergamo. Created in April amid Italy's early outbreak, this image brings into sharp focus the painful and tragic extent of northern Italy's suffering during the first outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Italy’s death toll was the highest in Europe during the first months of the outbreak, and the country could barely keep up with the transportation of coffins for burial.

The photograph was an acquisition proposed by the museum’s PhotoFutures: Collecting Art for Notre Dame, a student seminar led by the curator of education, academic programs and the curator of photographs. Designed for students of any major, this co-curricular program addresses issues related to museum collecting, contemporary photography and socially engaged artistic practice. Students critique individual photographs and evaluate artists' portfolios while engaging in critical discussions with the artists, museum curators and select faculty. This fall, students had the unique challenge of acquiring a photograph that addresses our current historical moment.

They state: "This photograph includes many of the hallmark elements of daily life under the conditions of the pandemic. The priest stands alone in a mask, even distanced from the coffins which contain the COVID-19 victims. The haunting loneliness of the piece and the solitary figure relate to the context of lockdowns and quarantine periods, which altered normal everyday activities and transformed bustling public places and city streets into ghost towns overnight. The artist’s choice of black and white adds to the melancholy tone while also eliminating any sense of the time of day, which recalls the disorientation of life under lockdown. ...

"[Majoli’s photograph] brings to mind our shared humanity in contrast with the mechanized and dehumanized process of handling the high volume of COVID-19 victims. The presence of religion also evokes a theme of grief and the ways in which human beings find comfort when confronted with loss. Although the conditions of the pandemic precluded funerals and religious services from taking place, the priest preserves some measure of human dignity, even in death, through his act of blessing these coffins."

Majoli is a photographer whose dramatic black-and-white photographs focus on the human condition and the narratives of our daily lives. Known for documenting conflicts worldwide, he has covered the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. He has contributed to Newsweek, The New York Times Magazine, Granta and National Geographic, among other publications. Majoli is the recipient of many awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship (2015), the Eugene Smith Grant (2017), the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography (2009) and the Infinity Award for Photojournalism (2003). A member of Magnum Photos since 2001, he splits his time between New York and Sicily. 

Originally published by Gina Costa at on Jan. 25.