The history of Giacomelli’s family, dynasty of photographers immortalizing the splendour of Venice in the XX century

5 November 2021

Venice, 2nd November 2021 – Boxes, slabs, and acetate. Historical pictures representing a no longer existing Venice, events and celebrations in the Serenissima, from the International Film Festival to the concerts in the La Fenice Theatre. Black and white photos of grand openings making history of a city which is now celebrating its 1.600 years. Fragments of daily life are scrupulously safeguarded in a photographic archive allowing to see an ancient Venice again between the 20s and the 90s of the 20th century. This is possible thanks to the photos taken by the lens of the photographer Pietro Giacomelli. His creation, later became artistic heritage of the municipality of Venice, and thanks to the Fondo Fotografico Giacomelli.

The history of Venice is directly connected to the Giacomelli’s family, a dynasty of photographers who captured the origin of important events in the present-day Venice with their cameras. Everything begins between the XIX and the XX centuries when Giacomo Giacomelli, irredentist from Trieste hidden in Venice so as to escape from the Hapsburg police authorities. Then, after an apprenticeship period, he detects the Domenico Contarini’s atelier in San Moisè.

When he died, his son Pietro, born in the 1892, starts working by transforming the atelier into an international company. He was friend and photographer of the royal family, beyond of all the most influential and prominent figures of the industry and culture sectors. For instance, Giovanni Colpi was one them. He succeeded in obtaining highly important photo shootings during the Fascist period, in which Venice was the centre of urban and economic big deals and changes. In this manner, he could provide documentary evidence of the building of the new Scalzi bridge crossing the Grand Canal, of the new Littorio bridge between Venice and the mainland. Also he provided documentary evidence of the constitution of the new industrial area of Porto Marghera and of its urban district, the huge tourist and hotel transformations of the Lido, and the new important cultural like the Venice Film Festival and Venice Art Biennale.

Beyond the atelier in campo San Moisè dedicated to develop, print and store pictures, a photo agency was created in cooperation with the Enit (Ente Nazionale per il Turismo). The agency, on the contrary was dedicated to send printed material representing the tourist attractions and the Venetian artistic beauty all over the world.

In 1939, Pietro Giacomelli suddenly died and his business continued anyway thanks to her daughter Vera. In 1955 the atelier moved to Frezzeria, close to Piazza San Marco, where lasted until its permanent closure in 2001, after having been managed by Vera’s brother Gianni Giacomelli and by her children.

Today, a fortune of memories is remaining. More than two hundred thousand negatives with different formats are stored in the historical archive in the Celestina of the Municipality of Venice. They come from the Fondo Fotografico Giacomelli, acquired by the Municipality of Venice in 1995. It collects the majority of the material produced by the “Reale Fotografia Giacomelli”.

Daily in the Celestia, site of the archive, operations of treatment and of taking on responsibility of the material belonging to the photographic archive. This material, after being archived, is made available by means of the Album di Venezia. Often historical surprises come out, such as when a high definition slab emulsion re-emerges by showing a landscape glimpse, which is even able to bring people back to a remote Venetian time.

For example, the negative of a familiar Venetian glimpse re-emerged from an old box of slabs dedicated to artistic artifacts belonging to the antique dealer Minerbi. The glimpse represented a stretch of Strada Nuova, where now the entrance of the European Cultural Centreis is located. The picture taken by Giacomelli in 1928 clearly represents the front door of Palazzo Mora, ancient site of the antique dealer Minerbi. Moreover, it depicts the wall present on its left but now demolished, which worked as showcase information concerning the scheduling of theatres and cinemas. Through the untouched old developing solution people can immerse themselves in a distant horizon made of diversified both products and artists, such as a walking wayfarer dealing with the great cultural and artistic splendour of the 20s.