I try to photograph thoughts.
– Mario Giacomelli
Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000) was born Senigallia, Italy. As a young man, he worked as a typographer, painting on weekends and writing poetry. Inspired by the wartime movies of filmmakers like Fellini, Giacomelli taught himself photography. The Italian photographer Giuseppe Cavalli had moved to Senigallia and was eager to form a club that would promote photography as art. In 1953 the Misa club was formed, with officers Cavalli as president and Giacomelli as treasurer. In 1956, Giacomelli joined the La Bussola group of photographers and then the national ANSA agency. He specialized in black-and-white land scenes, devising his own way of shooting, using the little-known Kobell Press camera.
In 1954 Giacomelli began to photograph the home for the elderly where his mother had worked, completing the series in 1983. Empathetic but grittily unsentimental, the pictures show many women seemingly marooned in the sea of old age. In 1985-87, Giacomelli revisited the subject for his series ”Ninna Nanna,” which means lullaby. In this series, the deeply lined, gaunt faces of the aged are a bleak counterpoint to the bold lines and patterns found in the fields and on the sides of houses.
Other important photographic essays that Giacomelli executed were the 1957-59 series entitled “Scanno,” named for an impoverished town in the Abruzzi region of central Italy. In the 1960s, Giacomelli worked on the project entitled ”No hands caress my face”, better known as the ”Pretini” series taken in the seminary of Senigallia and later shown at Cologne Photokina in 1963.
Starting in the mid-1950s, Giacomelli began to win photographic prizes and exhibit in group shows many of which focused on post-war humanistic photography, such as the exhibition entitled, “What is Man?” that originated in Frankfurt and then traveled internationally. In 1975, the British photographer Bill Brandt selected Giacomelli for his major exhibition, “The Land: 20th Century Landscape Photographs,” shown at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. In 1980, Giacomelli published his first and only solo book, Mario Giacomelli, fotografe, edited by Angelo Schwarz.
Giacomelli’s technique is distinctive. After beginning with the popular and robust Comet 127 film-format viewfinder camera, made in Italy by CMF Bencini from 1948 into the 1950s, in 1954 he bought a second-hand Kobell, a larger coupled rangefinder camera for 6×9 plates and film, one of only about 400 made by Boniforti and Ballerio in Milan from about 1952, and modified it himself. He was unafraid of exploiting the double-exposure capability of its Compur shutter, as well as soft focus, camera movement, and slow shutter speeds. His images are high-contrast, quite unlike the modulated full tonal range of his mentor Cavalli, and are the result of using electronic flash, from overdevelopment of his film and compensatory heavy printing so that nearly-black forms ‘float’ against a white ground. After 1986, especially in his 1992-3 series Il pittore Bastari (‘The painter Bastari’) he artificially included consciously symbolic cardboard masks and toy dogs.