The city in masks | Photographs by Francesca Magnani at the Consulate General of Italy in New York
The city of masks (La città in maschera), an exhibition of 25 images by street photographer Francesca Magnani is presented by appointment from October 7 to November 11, 2021 at the Consulate General of Italy, an iconic 1917 mansion located at 690 Park Avenue. The exhibition is also available online here.
At the onset of the pandemic, many New Yorkers began to coordinate their face coverings with their outfits and at times this new mandatory and concealing accessory has become a statement in itself. If the mask was necessary for a basic protective function, it gradually evolved into a more complex object with multiple functions: to communicate a message; express their mood, personality, ethnicity or community; meaning mutual respect or belonging; or indicating a political position.
With a background in classics and anthropology, Magnani has long had an interest in questions of identity and self-representation and how people experience and deal with their daily challenges. She has been photographing masked New Yorkers since the start of the pandemic; the project is in progress and now has more than 600 images. Magnani is aware of the tremendous power that masks hold as artifacts that simultaneously remind us of an illness and are crucial in warding off it.
“As a street photographer, I followed the way people coped with the pandemic as a way of facing the unknown. I was here on September 11 and during Sandy’s aftermath. And in March 2020, I saw an anguish, disbelief, and confusion in people’s expressions and the way they move around the streets that often matched mine.
Magnani walked through the many parts of the city and gradually saw how people began to wear their feelings and expressions on a piece of cloth. She walked every day – in parks, on subways, at Black Lives Matter events, in restaurants, across bridges.
When possible, Magnani tells people about the masks she photographs as they often have a story. “Whether they’re made by his mother, an aunt, a friend, or found in a basket with a message written by a neighbor, I’ve noticed that people are attached to the story behind the mask,” Magnani said. “And, because I never plan these portraits, each mask reminds me of a specific route I have taken over the past year; it marks a point in a new period of history where I was learning to navigate myself and a spark of connection that helps me feel grounded and human.
A number of images in the series were acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History as part of the first series of several digital acquisitions of the museum linked to the pandemic. While acquiring the images, Shannon Thomas Perich, Curator of the Photographic History Collection, wrote: “Your eye for interesting people and color in New York is wonderful. You understood and could see how individuals reacted and made the wearing of the mask something that they could integrate into their personality and personal expression. Your work, which reminds us of how people have adapted to this new way of getting around the world, is historically significant.
In addition, two photographs related to Covid-19 were part of New York responds. The first six months recently exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York; and a mask (May 10) was part of the # ICPCconcerned group show, now online.
To make an appointment to visit the exhibition, please contact the artist’s studio at: www.francescamagnani.com/contact.
About the artist
Francesca Magnani is an Italian photographer, writer, teacher and translator based in Brooklyn. Born and raised in Padua, she arrived at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, as a Fulbright Scholar in 1997. Since then, she tells in words and images the stories that move her while chronicling hers. life. Follow her on @magnanine and francescamagnani.com.