Luigi Ghirri

Galerie Anne de Villepoix

Luigi Ghirri (1943–1992) was one of the first artists, in the early ’70s, to practice color photography as a way of adhering to reality, a limitless reservoir of hieroglyphics to be deciphered. Forty original prints from 1970 to 1990 and eight new prints authorized by Ghirri’s widow, with the sea as their common theme, allowed for a good grasp of this artist at the crossroads of Pop and Conceptual art. Certain images record the signs of human presence (advertising or movie posters, signposts, decorations painted on the doors of beach cabanas) and, through the effects of cropping, reveal their coexistence with fragments of a landscape on the verge of disappearance; these images seek out collisions, as in one that shows fragments of two posters—the legs of a pinup and a death notice. Paradoxically, the force of Ghirri’s images has to do with their banality, symptomatic of the social uses of photography studied by Pierre Bourdieu and explored by numerous artists at the time and since. Echoes of postcards and vacation snapshots are omnipresent in these images, which paint a portrait of Italy (and to some extent, of France) during a particular period but which are also universal and timeless. All family albums contain these beach scenes and ocean views; all holiday resorts offer vacationers these promenades and athletic facilities, these bungalows, these games and café terraces. And they seem all the more familiar since Ghirri strives to capture not the picturesque elements but the quality of their atmosphere; hence, a certain nostalgia is born in looking at them. Common experience seems to have been condensed in these images like fragments of a collective memory, brought together by this project of systematic inventory for a sort of archaeology of the future.

But beyond the apparent transparency of the photographic medium, and its quasi-documentary—indeed, sociological—uses, Ghirri above all explores its power to reconstruct reality, to forge a code; thus, what is brought to the fore, through various means, are the acts of framing and cropping achieved by the eye with the aid of the camera. Porticos, soccer goals, balustrades, and guardrails function as so many frames within the frame, slicing fragments out of the immensity of the beach and sea, constructing perspective while at the same time distorting it whenever anything escapes its rules. A telescope pointing at the sea places the landscape doubly at a distance while also suggesting a possible dive into its depths; a sign on a balustrade with the word mare seems to caption the sea itself, establishing a multitiered relationship between object, word, and image. With remarkable economy of means, and no didacticism but rather a sense of humor rare in Conceptual art, Ghirri’s apparently simple but aesthetically perfect vision offers not only a support for contemplation but also the reflection that the sea is indeed an apt emblem for his interrogation of the photograph—its surface and its depth.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.