…always insisted,… “I’m not a photographer”. And I do understand, despite his using film and a camera. If there was ever a photographer who used the medium to make impressionistic abstract works, then it would be Mario Giacomelli. This Italian photographer was self-taught. His art was inspired by the Neo-Realist films of Rossellini and De Sica. His images of the community of Scanno are as famous as his images of landscape, in a strong contrast that turns almost everything into black and white photography, and where only small details are left undefined by the exposure. The aerial images of fields and arable land are a proper form of abstract, black and white images that look like pencil drawings and are often unrecognizable at first glance. Mario Giacomelli is celebrated in Italy, and his works are part of many museum collections, like the MoMA and the MET in New York.
Born in the town of Senigallia in east-central Italy, he never much enjoyed school; he left at 16 and alternated working in a typography shop and learning about photography during his the war in the Italian army. He spent time after the war in Africa and India, as well as France and Switzerland. Eventually, his work started appearing in magazines and exhibitions from Chicago to Tokyo, Ottawa to Paris, Spain to Wales and in smaller galleries and publications all over Italy.
Never 35mm, Always 6×9
The camera used by Giacomelli was a project camera designed by the Italian reporter Luciano Giachetti and based on the Leica and Plaubel Makina features and mechanics. It was called the Korbell, and was hand made by a Milan craftsman named Boniforti. While he did make a few models, it was the 6×9 version that was used by Giacomelli. The lens was a German Schneider Kreuznach. But I would not advise trying to find said camera. They are very, very rare, and go for exorbitant sums of money. They are really only collector cameras now. Not meant for daily usage. But I do encourage people to find and use more modern versions of 6×9 cameras. Which are basically 35mm aspect ratio cameras,…but with really humongous negatives! Even Bob Carlos Clarke liked using a Fuji 6×9 sometimes. It gave him the “35mm look with a bigger negative”.
Mario Giacomelli was a kind and nice man and worked as printer for most of his life. He didn’t make much money with photography, but left us a wonderful legacy of outstanding humanity. As one editor noted about his book, ‘Evoking Shadows’,… “Mother, water, land, home: these are the cornerstones of his poetic imagery… ‘Evoking Shadows’ reveals surprising analogies between the photographer and Federico Fellini, and explores, in a warm-hearted and engrossing essay, the stories of Giacomelli’s most famous pictures.”
The Books and Monographs
The myriad of books of his work are quite extensive, and in many languages. But my favorites are “Mario Giacomelli: Under the Skin of Reality“, “The Black Is Waiting for the White: Mario Giacomelli Photographs“, “Giacomelli: The Interior Shape” and “Mario Giacomelli: Evoking Shadow“. These are far from the only books and monographs publishers have released, but they are my picks.
Yes,…if you ever have the opportunity to view the work in person, you’ll at first think you’re viewing an impressionistic pencil or chalk drawing. If you’re a commonplace “pixel peeper”, I can almost guarantee that you’ll hate the work. But if you’re open to the idea of photography being a medium that can transform into lyrical art, you’ll love it. He is considered an Italian National treasure. Even the website below is in Italian. But as with all art, you don’t need to understand the words. The images are worth a thousand words. He was born in 1925, died in 2000. Working until the end.