Alex Majoli’s photographs balance reality with theatre

The Magnum Photos member’s latest series of images explore the human condition and question elements of contemporary society

As a way of keeping her son off the streets of Ravenna, Alex Majoli’s mother sent him to a photography studio to learn how to use a camera properly. Conversely, her attempt to keep Majoli out of harm's way led to a photography career that saw him working with the Taliban, living in the bodegas of Brazil and spending time in a Greek mental asylum.

The Howard Greenberg Gallery in New York will host Majoli’s show Skēnē. The exhibition will feature a series of black and white images that capture struggling communities, the European migrant crisis, Russian AIDS victims and a crowd grieving over the death of a 13-year-old girl. The photographs were taken by the Italian photographer between 2010 and 2016, with the collection focusing on the idea of human psychological condition, as well as darker elements of society.

When it comes to Majoli’s style, he walks a fine line between reality and theatre. His first book Leros (1995) documented life within the titular Greek island’s notoriously brutal mental asylum, prior to its closure. The images of nude and confused patients, physically distressed doctors and walls of wanted posters for escapees are set against the backdrop of rugged landscapes. The spectacular framing almost feels staged. Yet, as we learn from Leros and Skēnē, there is often more drama in reality than fiction.