05 April 2013

It's Beautiful Here Isn't It: Luigi Ghirri

In 2009, the Aperture Gallery in Manhattan hosted the retrospective It's Beautiful Here, Isn't It?, devoted to the work of the Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992).  Now, the Matthew Marks Gallery, also in New York, has another welcome exhibition Luigi Ghirri: Kodachrome, on view until April 20th.  This exhibition coincides with the republication of Ghirri's much admired book Kodachrome, by MACK, London, UK: 2012., a book he originally published himself in 1978.  An unapologetic proponent of color photography, Ghirri used his camera to capture the fog-shrouded days and moonlit nights of his native Emilia- Romagna.

Luigi Ghirri was born in Scandiano and grew up in the province of Emilia-Romagna, an area roughly corresponding to a swath across the top of the Italian 'boot', a  temperate area traversed by the Po River.  Its broad, fertile plains were created by the gradual retreat of the sea and the hard work of the people in wresting croplands from the marshes.  Its name commemorates  the road built by the early Romans that connected the city to the eastern empire and Ravenna.  As a young man Ghirri moved to the small city of Modena but we should not think of it as a backwater, as it is near Bologna, the regional capitol and proud home to the oldest university in the world.   Ghirri's last home would be at Roncoses, not  far from where he was born. 

The province was also  home to two very estimable  painters in the 20th century – the Greek-born Giorgio de Chirico and and the Bolognese Giorgio Morandi. In the preternatural light that falls on de Chirico's  piazzas and the vibrating tremulousness surrounding Morandi's huddling  bottles, (photographed by Ghirri at the Atelier Morandi in Bologna) we find a recognizable material reality and an intensity of observation that has been called metaphysical.   Morandi said that in  painting a still life  he found a way of transcending time, of "spending an eternity in placid contemplation."    Ghirri called it his "sentimental geography" but that does insufficient justice to accretions of time we apprehend through his landscapes.

"The daily encounter with reality, the fictions, the surrogates, the ambiguous, poetic or alienating aspects, all seem to preclude any way out of the labyrinth, the walls of which are ever more illusory… to the point at which we might merge with them… The meaning that I am trying to render through my work is a verification of how it is still possible to desire and face a path of knowledge, to be able finally to distinguish the precise identity of man, things, life, from the image of man, things, and life." -  Luigi Ghirri

While living in Modena, Ghirri met the architect Aldo Rossi, whose studio he photographed frequently. The projects, in various states of disarray, scattered about the room recall the pleasures of childhood games of building and arranging, from doll houses to Legos.   More importantly, Ghirri became fascinated with the architect's maps, with their dots and lines representing the physical features of woods and streams, almost like hieroglyphic representations of landscape.  Cardboard Landscapes (1971-74) was the first of several series of images Ghirri made.  This preoccupation coincided with the New Topographic photography in the United States, the only suggestion of a connection is Ghirri's familiarity with the photographs commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.

Ghirri began his career with a sense that everything that could be done with photography had already been accomplished.  He spoke often of how deeply affected he was by the view of the earth as photographed from Apollo 11 spacecraft.  "It was not only the image of the entire world, but the image that contained all other images of the world."
During the 1970s Ghirri learned to use the coincidences that reality placed before his camera to move beyond that sense, to adventures in looking.  The photo of the diver, reflecting images on all sides appears as Ghirri's delighted experience of liberation

Photography […] I believe it to be an extraordinary visual language for being able to increase this desire for the infinite we all have within us. As I said before, it constitutes a great adventure in the world of thinking and looking, a great, magical toy that succeeds miraculously to combine our adult awareness with the fairy-tale world of childhood […], Borges wrote of a painter who wanted to paint the world, and began with pictures of lakes, mountains, boats, animals, faces, objects. At the end of his life, putting together all of his pictures and drawings, he noticed that this immense mosaic was his own face. The starting point of my project and photographic work may be compared to this tale. The intention of finding a key, a structure for every single image, which all together goes to form another. A slender thread that binds autobiography and the external world. (Luigi Ghirri, L’opera aperta, 1984)

Ghirri copied into his journal  this quotation from a letter written by Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo that applies as well to an attitude he adopted toward his native land. Everything has a blighted, faded quality about it now. Still, if you look at it for a long time, the old charm reemerges. And that is why I can see that I will lose absolutely nothing by staying where I am, even by contenting myself with watching things go by, like a spider in its web waiting for flies. You need to look at things for a long time…” – Vincent van Gogh 
Formal, cerebral, witty, Ghirii's photographs  give the viewer reason to answer his question affirmatively.  Yes, it is beautiful here.

Images: photographs by Luigi Ghirri, reprinted from  It's Beautiful Here, Isn't It? by Germano Celant, William Eggleston & Paola Ghirri was published by Aperture Books, New York, 2008, unless otherwise noted/
1. Bonn, 1973, Matthew Marks Gallery, NYC.
2. Reggio Emilia, 1973, Pompidou Center, Paris. 
3. Atelier Morandi.

4. from the series taken in Paris, 1976.
5. Fagnano Olona, designed by Aldo Rossi, 1985, Pompidou Center, Paris.
6. from the series in Paris, 1976.
7. Roncocesi, the Ghirri House.
8. Bologna, 1985, Aperture Foundation, NYC.


Tania said...

Simplicity and beauty. I like very much these photos, I discover this contemplative photographer.

Jane said...

Tania, it cannot be easy to photograph in the mist without the images dissolving into a blur. But, yes, the result is simplicity and beauty.

Tania said...

Simplicity so difficult, an art, of course.

Anonymous said...

Sharon said...I think these images are extremely beautiful,I just read an article on his work in the latest artforum and had to look up his work immediately. Ghirri's work remninds me of my favourite photographer Saul Leiter.

Jane said...

Tania, you are right, I think. The less there is, the easier to make mistakes and the harder to hide them.

Jane said...

Sharon, I don't know Saul Leifer's work so thanks for suggesting it. Ghirris did some of his best work ini weather that was unstable and difficult to capture.