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Remembering Gianni Giansanti

2 minute read
Jeff Israely

The man who snapped many of the most memorable pictures of the first non-Italian Pope in centuries–Gianni Giansanti, who died on March 18 at 52–broke big into photojournalism by capturing the most traumatic image in modern Italian history.

On May 9, 1978, a 21-year-old Giansanti rushed to the center of historic Rome and snapped a shot of Aldo Moro, dead in the trunk of a Renault. The five-time Premier of Italy had been kidnapped and, after 54 days in captivity, executed with 11 gunshots to his heart. Giansanti’s photograph was seen all over the world.

His next, and most famous, subject was the globetrotting Pope John Paul II, with whom Giansanti traveled the world. And although he was on the other side of Rome when an attempt was made on the Pope’s life, Giansanti was among the photographers at Rebibbia prison when John Paul went to forgive the would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca.

One particular Giansanti photograph became TIME’s cover image commemorating John Paul’s death in 2005. It was not a posed shot. John Paul was visiting seminarians when someone made a joke, and, recalled Giansanti, “that expression that he has, almost like a Mona Lisa smile, came across his face just as the light was striking him perfectly. It is the most beautiful photo I ever shot of him.”

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