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More than Meets the Eye

Luigi Ghirri, born in 1943 in the Italian province of Reggio Emilia, was one of the great masters of 20th-century image-making — the man who used color in his own palette to depict the world around him. Most often photographing landscapes, interiors and still lifes, his images are soft, cerebral and infinitely poetic, boasting a pale, pastel palette and a sublime sense of space (perhaps the result of Ghirri’s early career as a land surveyor). To look upon a Ghirri image is to clear the dust from one’s eyes, to experience awe in the everyday; as the photographer himself said, “Taking photographs is above all restoring a sense of wonder”. Confronted with one of his lucid Puglian seascapes, you may imagine that creating aesthetically delightful pictures was Ghirri’s principal aim, yet his practice was one rooted in craftsmanship, playful wit and deeply considered theory (he was renowned, after all, for the written musings on photography that so often accompanied his work).

124 Modena 1973 by Luigi Ghirri

'Modena', 1973 (The Map and The Territory) [p.287] C-print, printed 1979, 18.6 × 28.3 cm CSAC, Università di Parma. Courtesy of MACK.

Ghirri was an artist who constantly shifted perspectives, who looked and photographed to better understand, his works acting as “powerful devices for the re-education of the gaze”, to quote the photography critic Francesco Zanot. As a man entranced by life’s inherent mystery, the strength of Ghirri’s photographs often lies in their incompleteness, in what sits outside the frame, in imagination. It is no accident, for example, that windows, doors, gates, fog and partially obscured figures are frequent occurrences within his work, along with mirrors and a variety of imagery from our image-saturated world that serve to reflect and warp our perception of reality. In terms of technical prowess, Ghirri’s extraordinary command of light, color and cropping, and his almost geometric approach to composition, are what sets his work apart, gently but purposefully guiding the viewer in our interpretation of the works.

 Kodachrome 087 by Luigi Ghirri

'Bastìa', 1976 (Kodachrome, 1970-1978) [p. 92] C-Print, printed 1979, 13.8 x 27.2 cm. CSAC, Università di Parma. Courtesy of MACK.

16 Modena 1973 by Luigi Ghirri

'Modena' 1971 (The Map and The Territory) [p.83] C-print 22.4 × 15.1 cm Eredi di Luigi Ghirri. Courtesy of MACK.

Through his lens, we are invited at times to puzzle (as tourists tower above a seemingly shrunken Venice in Rimini, 1985, for instance); at others to utter an ironic chuckle (upon realising that the four figures in Salisburgo, 1977, are gazing wistfully upon a giant billboard instead of the apparent mountain range a first glance would suggest); at others simply to marvel at the quiet moments of drama, coincidence or beauty that exist all around us, if only we’re bidden to look. In the words of Bob Dylan, one of Ghirri’s favorite musicians, writing in 1991, the year before Ghirri’s death:

You need something to open up a new door / To show you something you seen before / But overlooked a hundred times or more.
 Kodachrome 037 by Luigi Ghirri

'L'Île-Rousse', 1976 (Kodachrome, 1970-1978) [p.272] C-print, new print, 20 × 30.2 cm, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris. Courtesy of MACK.

86 Brest 72 by Luigi Ghirri

'Brest', 1972 (The Map and The Territory) [p.181] C-print, printed 1979, 21 × 28.5 cm CSAC, Università di Parma. Courtesy of MACK.