On 21 February 2020, Adriano Trevisan became the first person in Europe to die from coronavirus. The 78-year-old bricklayer resided in Vò, a small Italian town of 3,300 residents near Venice. In response, the regional authorities enforced a lockdown of the whole town, initiating a scientific study rolled out by the University of Padua and Red Cross, in which all 3,300 inhabitants were tested for Covid-19.
The first round of testing on 29 February identified around 90 infected people — three percent of the population — and after two weeks of stringent identification and isolation, there were no new cases. As of last week, Vò has been coronavirus-free for two months, and today, along with the rest of Italy, the town is on track to recovery.
Matteo de Mayda was granted permission to enter and photograph the town through his photojournalism agency. Since March, the photographer has been driving back and forth between Treviso, where he is based, and Vò, documenting what has become one of the few success stories in an otherwise bleak coverage around Europe’s handling of the pandemic.
According to the photographer, many residents of Vò were unhappy about the media attention at the start of the pandemic — some news reporters would film without asking for permission, which they found intrusive and insensitive. De Mayda wanted to be more reflective in his approach, and produce more of a long-term, in-depth documentation of this positive, iconic story from his home-country.
“All of the images that have come out of this period are helpful in understanding the situation,” says De Mayda, referring to photos of hospitals and empty squares. “Many iconic pictures from Italy during the pandemic have been taken by normal people on their phones, but we, as photographers, have the ability to think a little more about what we are doing and how we are doing it.”
The result of his coverage is varied, ranging from still lifes of symbolic items from the pandemic — surgical masks, antibacterial gel, and bakers yeast, reported to be sold-out globally — to portraits of key figures such as Andrea Crisanti, the professor of Microbiology at the University of Padua who initiated the study. A large part of the documentation focuses on the testing process, which is not an easy procedure. Nasal swabbing can be uncomfortable and invasive — De Mayda can vouch for this after having been tested himself — and some residents queued for many hours of the day.
“I wanted to be sensitive to how these people feel. They feel confused, like everybody else. They’re not just doing this test for themselves, but also for the community, and for the nation,” says De Mayda. “The town has become a symbol for Italy and they are proud to be part of it.”