This article is a tribute to a great Italian poet, painter and photographer, Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000). His images are characterized by a strong graphic contrast and are related to suffering and decay in our world. In this article I pay tribute to his photographic series taken at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France. Read more after the jump!
Italian photographer, poet, and typographer Mario Giacomelli was born in 1925 to a poor family in Senigallia, a seaside town in the central Italy. At the age of 13 he abandoned school to begin working as a typographer, and in this early period he spent his weekend painting. After the Second World War he began to dedicate himself to photography. Almost all his life, he used a simple twin-lens Kobel camera, with an 80 mm lens and no exposure meter. His style is characterized by stylized compositions and high contrast.
One of his most successful series called There Are No Hands to Caress My Face (1961-63), is a poetic transcription of the everyday life of a group of young priests, taken in a local seminary. The title was taken from a poem written in 1948 by Father David Maria Turoldo, about solitude, as young men that embrace Catholic religious like are advised to seek solitude. However, there are joyful images that suggest a shared enjoyment. This contrast with the title is deliberate. In the early printing these images were less contrasted than in the latest edition.
Between his many masterpieces, there was a work he made in the old people’s home in his town Senigallia, called Death Will Come and It Will Have Your Eyes, from a poem of Cesare Pavese. These images are so dramatic that I really find it hard to look at them. But at the same time, they make a very strong complaint against the inhuman condition in which the elders were hosted in the hospice.
In 1957, after his series in the hospice, he took a series of photos in the Roman Catholic Sanctuary of Lourdes in France. He wrote: “In the old people’s home, what everyone wanted most of all was to die, while here they are determined at all costs to live. It’s a paradox; those who are truly suffering demand life and dream of living. […] People pressing toward the grotto, a line of wheelchairs, the assistant with their stretchers […] I blurred the foregrounds and made them grainy, to mask, in part or at least, the horror of the most serious illnesses.” (From Mario Giacomelli by Alistair Crawford, ed. Phaidon)
For this tribute, I chose a series of photos that I took in 1997 in Lourdes, during a holiday tour across France and Spain.
Today, Lourdes is frequented not only by pilgrims, but also by lots of tourists.
However, the Grotto of the Virgin remains unchanged, and the place is always full of ill people who are searching for a miracle or for a consolation. It’s a timeless place full of history and tradition that I photographed in the most classic way, using a black and white film roll.
A Salute to the Masters is a series dedicated to great photographers that I like. I posted other tributes for Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt, Ernst Haas, Stephen Shore, Gabriele Basilico, Robert Adams, Thomas Struth, J.H. Lartigue, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank, Gianni Berengo Gardin, André Kertész, Willy Ronis, Brassaï, Rodchenko, Dan Graham, Henry Grant, William Eggleston, Dennis Stock, Juergen Teller, Martin Parr, Peter Mitchell and Izis Bidermanas. I especially love street photography and urban architectural photography.