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Ghirri’s Gaze

Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943–1992) was also a prolific and adventurous writer. He wrote 68 essays on photography between 1973 and 1991, and he published them in his own books, in magazines and newspapers, or occasionally kept them to himself. These essays were collected and published in Italian in 1997; MACK Books recently released an English translation—Luigi Ghirri: The Complete Essays bringing his writing to a new group of readers.

Ghirri’s brief but dense ruminations on photography, which reference the work of other artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers, reveal a polymath who brought wide-ranging influences into his practice. Ghirri often approaches photography through analogy: For instance, he uses “variations of scale, as seen in stories like Gulliver’s Travels or Alice in Wonderland” to discuss how photographs can create “the building blocks of fables.” In other essays, he writes about how photographs function as references for exploration. “My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS,” he writes, “but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs.” Single images, made by Ghirri and by the photographers he writes about, accompany the essays and illustrate Ghirri’s discussions.

There is something in Ghirri’s essays for everyone. He contemplates scale, the history of images, the accumulation of meaning, style (and why he’s not interested in it), travel photography, “reality and delusion,” and “the destruction of direct experience,” among many subjects. He writes about the work of other photographers, including Walker Evans, William Eggleston, Jacques-Henri Lartigue, Daguerre, and many of his contemporaries in Italy. He reveals the evolution of his thinking about photography, and, even in discussing the limitations of the medium, Ghirri remains deeply committed to and delighted by it. He writes: “Taking photographs is above all restoring a sense of wonder—like observing through an adolescent eye—reversing the saying from Ecclesiastes [‘there is nothing new under the sun’], since in fact ‘there is nothing old under the sun.’”
—Conor Risch

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