Restoring the wonder of photography

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Thoughts and insights by Luigi Ghirri

Restoring the wonder of photography

Restoring the wonder of photography

Restoring the wonder of photography

Restoring the wonder of photography

Restoring the wonder of photography

What a wonderful book. It was highly anticipated by all admirers of Luigi Ghirri and has just been published by Quodlibet. Entitled Niente di antico sotto il sole. Scritti e interviste, and along with another of his titles with the same publisher - Lezioni di fotografia - it is undoubtedly a volume to have and to meditate on during these September evenings, perhaps sipping a calvados - the Drouin 2000 millesimato, aged in Tokaji barrels, is excellent - and letting another round of memories of yet another summer fade away. It is a very subtle and delicate melancholy - «Adriatic» we dare to call it - which Luigi Ghirri’s fans know well. We thought it would be a good idea for those who don’t know the Emilian photographer (1943-1992) to read this book, so we asked the Foundation which manages for his legacy to publish a selection of his famous and rare images. With the permission of the publisher, we accompany them with Ghirri’s replies to a number of interviews included in the book. We hope you enjoy the reading and, above all, the viewing.

Luigi Ghirri, why do you so often refer to the importance of having a clearer, less cluttered, view of the things we look at?

There is a line from Shakespeare that goes more or less like this, «Irony of fate: to have such good eyesight, and going down a blind alley». I think it portrays our situation well. Nowadays, we’re at risk of coming to a point where the excess of visibility leads to the demise, to the senselessness of our ability to observe. Photography must strive to penetrate the perception that surrounds us. From being inhabitable and knowable, the world suddenly becomes unknown. A mutation has subtly changed its face, as in a science fiction film. Great epic narratives are no longer possible. There is a museum-like atmosphere, an unsettling grandeur, a visual numbness caused by excessive desciption. It is a trade-off between accuracy and acumen. (To Carlo Dignola, 1990)

You speak of subjects loaded with memories...

I work with memory. A collective memory that inevitably has connections with personal experience. Let me explain: I work with personal values but inside a world where information is collective. In nature, these two things coincide. After all, Giordano Bruno also used to say that to think is to speculate with images. As far as photography is concerned, this sentence is undoubtedly symbolic, also considering that this great man had even created rooms of memory, dim places that for me, in the present day, can be safely compared to the darkroom. In each «room» certain memories are stored, all linked together. In this respect, Borges, an author I love, quoted a painter who, in wanting to depict the world, painted lakes, hills, and mountains and woods, boats and dead animals as well as men. At the end of his life, he put the paintings and drawings together and realized that this huge collection built the image of his face. (To Sergio Alebardi, 1982)

Is it worth, moneywise, being Luigi Ghirri?

Once you’ve paid for prints, films, and travel, whether you break even is luck enough. (To Sergio Alebardi, 1982)

The method you indicate is quite simple, far from the intellectual hubris we are used to.

I happened recently to photograph the house of painter Giorgio Morandi. It was an extraordinary experience: I was struck by my friend’s account of the artist’s discomfort with the yellow apartment building that had been built in front of his studio, and which altered the quantity and quality of light that could reach his subjects. Morandi used no other material but normalcy: he continuously repainted the same bottles, glasses and vases. I tried to achieve the same essence. Time and repetition are important elements for photography. Morandi had discovered that things have their own voice. One must put aside the urge to transform, and listen to the silent language. Do you know the fault of (the many) Morandi’s forgers? They get wrong the bottles sizes (the ones in use during the Renaissance era, even in my photography, the main problem has become giving order, and giving a measure to things. (To Carlo Dignola, 1990)

Is the world, for a photographer, actually becoming more beautiful or more ugly?

Ansel Adams, the American landscape photographer and environmentalist, used to say: «Landscape is an ugly word: it’s where nature ends». It was the utopia of a pure world, which never really existed. Certainly, today there is a need for re-foundation, for a new visual alphabet. A need for purity, for innocence, for a sentiment of the origins of things. Photography for me is a way of restoring this wonder, of overturning the statement of Ecclesiastes that says «...there is nothing new under the Sun», to affirm, on the contrary, that there’ s nothing older. Retrieve the youthful gaze which observes everything as if it were the first and last time. Giordano Bruno said: «Images are mysteries that are solved with the heart». It is necessary to rediscover a form of modesty in the face of time and the duration of things, and to propose a balance between artificiality and nature, between discovery and revelation. Whatever we are granted to understand is but a stretch mark. And yet, it is something unique: a rosy light like this one in Sabbioneta, on the walls of the Palazzo Ducale, would never be repeated. (To Carlo Dignola, 1990)

Which format do you use?

The 6 × 7. It allows me more time to observe and think; besides, the point of view is far enough away from the subject, and the colors are more delicate and deeper. (To Claude Nori, 1985)

I have a feeling that, after working in exteriors, you are now interested in interiors.

I am very interested in the relationship between interiors and exteriors. Particularly in Italy where the interiors of houses, churches, cinemas and stores seem like miniature museums full of objects, a sort of «local album». (To Claude Nori, 1985)

Could you suggest any keyword to a young aspiring photographer?

The passepartout.

Really?

Yes, it’s one of the fundamental things. The passepartout is a paper mat used to frame the photos in the portfolio. The passepartout and the portfolio are key for those who want their photos to be known as they should be. (To Sergio Alebardi, 1982)

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