Giacomelli was a self-taught photographer. At 13, he left high school, began working as a typesetter and spent his weekends painting. After the horrors of World War II, he turned to the more immediate medium of photography. He wandered the streets and fields of post-war Italy, inspired by the gritty Neo-Realist films of Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, and influenced by the renewed Italian photographer Giuseppe Cavalli, eventually developing a style characterized by bold compositions and stark contrasts.
One of Giacomelli's most iconic images, Scanno Boy (1957) consists of a picture portraying a group of women walking towards the observer with only one single and central object in focus: a boy walking with his hands in his pockets. In 2013 the name of the boy has been revealed by Simona Guerra: researcher and niece of Mario Giacomelli as Claudio De Cola. On October 19, 1957, the day Giacomelli took the photo, De Cola was emerging from the Church of Sant'Antonio in Padua like many of the people around him, after the Mass. De Cola, now in his sixties and no longer a resident of Scanno, recognised himself in the picture. Further evidence was provided by his mother Teopista, who produced several other pictures of the boy.
Apart from Scanno, Giacomelli's most successful series are The Landscapes (1954-2000) and I Pretini (Little Priests) (1961-1963), a transcription of the everyday life of a group of young priests, resulted from documenting Post-War Italian seminaries.
Giacomelli's work is present in many internationally acclaimed museums permanent collection, including Castello di Rivoli in Turin, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
- Alistair Crawford, The Black Is Waiting for the White: Mario Giacomelli Photographs, Contrasto, Milan, 2009.
- Simona Guerra, Mario Giacomelli. My Whole Life, Bruno Mondadori, Milan 2008.
- Roberto Maggiori, Enzo Cucchi & Bruno Giacomelli: Cose Mai Viste, Photology, Milan, 2006.
- Alistair Crawford, Mario Giacomelli, Phaidon Press, London, 2006.
- Giacinto Di Pietrantonio, Riccardo Lisi, Antonio Ria, Michele Robecchi, Marco Tagliafierro, Born in a Ditch: Enzo Cucchi and Mario Giacomelli, ELR, Losone, 2003.
- Sandro Genovali, Mario Giacomelli: Evoking Shadow, Charta Books, Milan, 2002.
- Germano Celant, Mario Giacomelli, Photology, Milan, 2001.
- Ennery Taramelli, Mario Giacomelli, Nathan, Paris, 1998.
- Enzo Carli, Mario Giacomelli: The Inner form. Photographs 1952-1995, Charta Books, Milan, 1996.
- Ida Gianelli and Antonella Russo, Mario Giacomelli, Castello di Rivoli, Turin, 1992.