Renzo Tortelli and Mario Giacomelli spent much of their careers documenting the same region of Italy on the Adriatic Coast. After the two photographers were introduced in 1956, they met frequently to discuss their shared influences, inspirations, and techniques. Followers of contemporary international greats such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï, who were exploring the practice of social documentary popularized by Edward Steichen's 1955 Family of Man exhibition, Tortelli and Giacomelli sought to emulate and expand upon their methods in their own photographic practice in rural Italy.
Never identifying as a professional photographer, Renzo Tortelli began making photographs in 1954 when his daughter was born. Tortelli's Piccolo Mondo series examines the dynamic microcosm of an Italian kindergarten. Full of movement and emotion, these photographs present the vast range of personalities emerging in these young children as they learn to navigate their little world. Not yet fraught with the self-consciousness that comes with age, the schoolchildren are completely honest in their behaviors, reactions, and expressions as they interact with the photographer and each other as they go about their school day. The children are frequently seen playing at their ideas of adulthood, cradling baby dolls or aiming a toy gun, leading the viewer to wonder what kinds of adults these students became in the decades since these images were made.
Celebrated as one of Italy's greatest photographers, Mario Giacomelli trained as a typesetter before delving into photography. In an interview with Alessandra Mauro, Giacomelli explained, "I try to photograph thoughts. The subject is useful as a way of conveying what I want to say". The artist feared growing old, and navigated his fear through this series of a nursing home in his hometown of Senigallia, titled after Cesare Pavese's poem, "verrà la morte e avrà i tuoi occhi" (death will come and will have your eyes). The artist said of this series, "These images are more realist. Even technically speaking they are my simplest and my truest. Because what I was trying to show, rather than what I saw, was what was within me: my fear of getting old - not of dying - and my disgust at the price one has to pay for one's life." Giacomelli spent years exploring this community that is so often hidden away, a community that he had been familiar with since childhood, when his mother worked at that very nursing home. In stark contrast that highlights every wrinkle and flaw, he faces, and, in turn, his viewers face, the physical, mental, and emotional realities of old age.
Tortelli and Giacomelli both approached their respective series as social documentarians, taking the time to immerse themselves in the environment of their subjects. Both photographers gained a level of acceptance and trust that allowed their subjects to forget that an outsider was present and making photographs, resulting in two series that instill in the viewer a sense of honesty. Speaking of his elderly subjects, Giacomelli said, "I tried to make myself one of them, to be like them. They didn't notice I had my camera with me".
In displaying these two projects together, this exhibition juxtaposes these opposite life experiences: the joy and wonder Tortelli's schoolchildren, and the loneliness and frailty of Giacomelli's nursing home residents. This exhibition will be on view at the Keith de Lellis Gallery through January 28, 2017.