The big picture: trainee priests having a ball in the snow
Photographer Mario Giacomelli’s 1960s shot taken during a rare snowfall on the Adriatic coast captures the distractions of the contemplative life
It doesn’t snow very often on the Adriatic coast of Italy, perhaps two or three days a year. The rarity of the event helps to explain some of the joy of Mario Giacomelli’s famous pictures of young priests in his home town of Senigallia, enjoying some winter fun in the early 1960s. Scenes like this one were something of a gift for Giacomelli, who loved the possibilities of silhouette, the graphic simplicities of true black and white. The contrast, accentuated by the photographer’s slow shutter speeds and hand printing, gives the pictures their otherworldly dimension, as if the young priests are floating in the air.
The image is a natural fit in a new collection of photographs exploring the idea of “presence”. Its ethereal quality is given substance, grounded by the surprising informality of the young men’s interaction. Giacomelli spent a couple of years winning the trust of the trainee priests, so that he could capture something of the intimacy of their community. His ambition, he said, was to discard “the conventional rules in my treatment of the subject, to reveal the naked man”.