My name is Claudio Majorana. I’m a photographer and a medical student. Five years ago, as a birthday present from my father, I received a box of negatives that had been stored in the attic of our family country house for about 50 years. In my family there has always been a strong passion for photography, especially for Leica cameras. My great grandfather used to shoot with a Leica IIIC and my grandfather and my father with a Leica M3 (two strokes, chromed). A few years ago, I happened to buy a Leica M6 with the money I got from the insurance for my stolen Vespa.
When I received the box, I didn’t have a concrete idea of how much family history there was inside and so for this and for other reasons I kept it stored in my closet for one year before actually deciding to take a deep look inside it.
Inside the box I found about 109 rolls of negatives shot between 1940 and 1959. Making an archive of all these pictures was the only thing to do. At that time I still didn’t have a scanner, but as I soon found out that was the least of my problems.
Each strip of 36 frame rolls was rolled up and wrapped in vellum paper where my grandfather wrote a date and the related events. Considering the range of time in which these pictures were shot, the oldest negatives remained rolled up for about 70 years. At first I randomly picked some negative strips to take a look. But since each one had been tightly rolled for all that time, it was basically impossible to use or scan them because it was very hard to open them.
So what I did was cut each film into strips of six frames and put them under pressure inside some big books. I was pretty sure that a couple of months would have been enough time, but I actually had to wait two whole years. Among something like 3,900 frames I found so many events such as a relative’s funeral in 1940, my father’s first day of school, an Easter lunch in 1958 or the organization of my grandfather’s political campaign. While storing all these negatives, I noticed one of them in particular. On the paper that wrapped it there was written: “Majorana U.S.A. 1957.”
I never had the chance to meet my grandfather since he died a couple of years before I was born. All that I know about him comes from the stories my father has told me since I was a little kid.
His name, like mine, was Claudio Majorana, he was an engineer working for the State Railways, president of the IRFIS (Regional Institute for Sicilian Industries Financing), Rotarian, Mayor of Acicastello, Sicily (where he lived with his family) and member of the Sicilian Regional Assembly. That date and those pictures reminded me of an old picture my father always kept in his studio. It’s the picture of a dinner held by the United Friends of Sicily in 1957 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City in Honor of Hon. Giuseppe Alessi and his delegation. Looking among the family memories I found a couple of albums of newspaper articles and pictures about that journey to the United States. The pictures here below were taken by my grandfather.
On 10 February 1957 the President of the Regional Government of Sicily, Giuseppe Alessi, along with a Sicilian delegation left Sicily to go to the United States. The reason for the journey was an invitation from the American State Department to develop a relationship between the American and Sicilian economy and finance.
“Along with the President Alessi, were part of the delegation: Professor Zanini president of the ERAS (Corporation for the Sicilian Land Reform); Mr. Caiozzo CEO of the Sicilian Industry Councillorship; Mr. Salvatore Russo (ERAS Counselor); the ex-President of the Sicilian Regional Assembly and ex-Industry Assessor Giulio Bonfiglio; Vice President of Sicilian Industry, president of the Legislative Commission for Public Works of the Regional Assembly, Member of Congress Claudio Majorana, of significant help for the President Alessi for his specific proficiency in occasion of the meetings with the American economic environment.” (Source: La Sicilia del Lunedì – 11 February 1957).
The Sicilian delegation arrived in NYC on 15 February after a long stop at the Shannon Airport in Ireland for an airplane mechanical malfunction. The delegation was welcomed in NYC City Hall by the mayor Robert F. Wagner. The next day they met the directors of the First City National Bank of New York and visited the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street. During the journey my grandfather had also the chance to visit a club, “Society of Militello Val Catania,” located in Little Italy. It was made by Sicilian expats in honour of his uncle Angelo Majorana.
In Washington, D.C. they had a meeting with the directors of the International Bank of Reconstruction and Development to talk about the possibility of an intervention of the Bank in Sicily. They also had a meeting at the Department of Agriculture to expose the improvements made by the Sicilian Land Reform. On 23 February the delegation visited the Arlington National Cemetery where President Alessi honored the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
As my grandfather Claudio Majorana said before leaving Sicily: “My special thanks go to the Member of Congress Giuseppe Alessi who wanted me with him during this journey that I wish will be fruitful for the future of our island. This is the first mission of the Sicilian region that goes to the United States and I hope we’ll get the best out of this. My special greetings go also to the Sicilians who live in America from whom we expect a demonstration of solidarity and known love for their Motherland.” (Source: Corriere di Sicilia – 12 February 1957).
– Claudio Majorana
You can see more of Claudio Majorana’s work here.
Thank you for sharing your family’s history. The images are striking yet vivid, a visual time capsule. The compositions and moments captured are indeed visually stimulating. I particularly like the shot from the rear passenger seat, would of been interesting to know what prompted ‘Claudio’ to take this shot? I see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, your work is also comparatively full of substance, keep it up!
robert quiet photographer
It’s always interesting when photography and history come together. It’s a way to keep the past alive. You really got a great present. and the “on the way to NYC City Hall” photo has a very modern look!
PS: I have as well many negs from my father rolled since many years, I have to try the same process as you did, cutting, flatten, scan…
Thank you very much Robert! I’m really looking forward to see what’s in the other rolls. It’s incredible how these negatives are still not totally flattened. Working with this roll was not easy, part of the pictures were a little damaged but anyway it’s been a great pleasure for me to do this. Scan your negatives. As one of my best friends said after he saw this post “Our history is one of the most precious things we have, thank memory and rolls exists.”
Thank you very much for your words Emmanuel.
I believe that my grandfather had somehow a propention for documentary photography. I have about an hundred more rolls to check and I’m really looking forward to find out more about his pictures!