Alberto Giuliani’s San Salvatore

Alberto Giuliani, Annalisa Silvestri, Anesthesiologist, 2020. From the series San Salvatore.

This year has been one of the most challenging moments in recent history, in largest part due to the worldwide spread of COVID-19. Beginning in autumn 2019, the virus rapidly spread across the globe. People were urged to self-isolate and remain at home while governments scrambled to respond, some more successful in containing the pandemic than others. Now, in Canada and several other countries, the quarantine measures are being slowly rescinded as the infection slows. It is still important to note the virus is still very much present and capable of resurging in coming months, and it is worth considering the efforts and sacrifices many had to make in order to get to where we are today.

Alberto Giuliani, Annalisa Silvestri, Anaesthesiologist (left) & Francesca Palumbo, Intensive Care Unit Nurse (right), 2020. From the series San Salvatore

Canada was fortunate considering how disastrous the virus could have been. Among those most severely hit was Italy, with casualties reaching over 35,000 as of today. In the earliest months, hospitals became overwhelmed by the tide of new infections, and severe lockdowns were implemented to try and flatten the curve. Amidst that panic, doctors and nurses dedicated themselves to helping those infected and fighting back against the spread. Their tireless efforts were vital in saving lives and reducing the cases to its now manageable level. Fear, fatigue, depression, and even the virus itself plagued healthcare staff as those numbers surged. The viral load they faced even caused many to lose their lives. Their persistence should never be neglected, something which Alberto Giuliani strives to immortalize in his photographic essay, San Salvatore.

Alberto Giuliani, Giulio Mensi, Anaesthesiologist (left) & Margherita Lambertini, First Aid Surgeon (right), 2020. From the series San Salvatore

San Salvatore Hospital is in the city of Pesaro, Italy, a place heavily hit by COVID-19 and which so happens to be Giuliani’s hometown. Given his career in ecological and societal storytelling through visual media, he saw it essential to document the grueling challenges that doctors, nurses, and specialists faced in containing the spread. Beginning with the artist’s brief reflection on the hospital’s frantic atmosphere, the essay then gives way to the personal experiences of the staff. They speak of the pervasive sense of fear, the surmounting uncertainty wrought by the novel virus, the strides to muster the courage and strength to carry forth. Even in trying to inspire hope, they cannot help but admit the sense of helplessness. The photographs Giuliani took to accompany the stories are portraits illustrating the very toil the hospital staff confronted every day. Their expressions show diligence and exhaustion, while their flesh is scarred by the constant necessity to wear personal protective equipment.

Alberto Giuliani, Eleonora Hulsof, Nurse Anaesthesiologist (left) & Federico Paolin, Intensive Care Doctor and Anaesthesiologist (right), 2020. From the series San Salvatore

Giuliani’s essay tells an important story: one of ongoing heroism and of exhortation. As the world (perceivably) recovers from COVID-19, we must not forget who was responsible for that recovery and what human costs it took. San Salvatore is both a memorialization of the very doctors and nurses who saved so many lives from ruin, and a cautionary tale of what will happen should we once again become complacent and take those efforts for granted.

Alberto Giuliani, Maria Trillini, Intensive Care Unit Nurse (left) & Vincenzo Siciliano, Intensive Care Unit Nurse (right), 2020. From the series San Salvatore

Simon Termine

Images are courtesy of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival

*Exhibition information: May 1 – December 31, 2020. Part of Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival Co-presented with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura, Toronto. View it online

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