Behind The Artwork – A focus on Luigi Ghirri

The visual investigation carried out by Luigi Ghirri (1943-1992) is clearly ex pressed in his famous book “Photography Lessons”: a timeless reference point for those who want to approach this world. The recognition of this great Italian artist took place later and more in the international environment, where the visual culture was certainly more accustomed to an innovative as well as traditional dimension. The apparent simplicity of his shots hides instead the complexity of the relationship between the image and the surrounding environment and we can define his attitude both as a contemplative and, at the same time, elementary and evocative.

The tendency to establish a connection between art and nature is not so far from the concepts expressed by Goethian aesthetics: between nature and art there is a spontaneous continuity, but art is not limited to mere reproduction but elevates nature itself, producing something more “high”. Art comes through intuition to grasp the true essence of things, just as Ghirri does. Bearing in mind a few lines from Lessons of Photography it is interesting to note the affinity of Goethe’s thesis with Ghirri’s vision:

“There is a dynamic of continuous exchange between the representation of reality and reality itself, a mechanism of progressive fusion of reality in its representation, of creating something in which it is difficult to distinguish reality and representation.”

Unlike Goethe, we don’t explicitly talk about raising nature to something noble, but simply going beyond things and being in connection with them; also because it is precisely Ghirri himself who underlines the ambiguity of the photographic language, and it is precisely on this ambiguity that the magic of his photography is based on preserving a part of mystery.

Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al

Among the most interesting works in the production of Ghirri is certainly the shot of sailors taken through a frosted glass that creates a suspended reality between movement and static. The photo was taken in Brest, France, and is part of the work entitled Diaframma 11, 1/125, natural light (1970-1979).

The color rendering is an almost dreamlike softness that underlines this sense of suspension. Fascinating is the concept of transparency expressed in “Photography lessons”: who makes photography works with an opaque object, because the image reveals itself in the dark, but uses transparent materials such as the lens and the film. The most interesting thing is that:

“The final result we want to achieve is not so much to take photographs that once again show transparency, but eventually to remove all the transparency that exists between us and the world, basically to get to see it again”.

So photography for Ghirri is an act of subtracting transparency that contrasts between us and the world, to rework and revise with new eyes; a new dimension of what we perceive is more real and closer, than anything else. Moreover, he tells us that “photography is a journey through these transparencies, not only physical, objective, concrete transparency, but an idea of transparency”.

In addition to the third dimension created by the expedient of glass, another interesting observation could be that this photograph seems almost a picture that for the imprecision of the contours of the figures and the harmony of the colors may resemble a modern Seurat, also for via of the round figures that seem almost color spots put to art.

Very often in the past, there were also important people, such as Baudelaire, who did not have the qualms to define photography as a sort of B series painting. There were also attempts to make photography independent of painting, but it is not easy to get rid of a visual background with such a history and evolution behind it. Ghirri talks about his relationship with art with the following words:

“It’s not about mimicking a language, but about establishing a relationship mechanism” […]

The relationships that we talk about then we find them everywhere especially in the world of mass media, so relationships becomes more and more complicated because you go to use a language that presupposes more and more rules taken from other previous experiences and you risk falling into sterile citations.

“I believe that five hundred years ago a normal person saw in his life perhaps five hundred images, that is, he had a relationship with five hundred images … those we see today in the space of a single day …”

In the case of Brest, it is understood that this connection to the art world exists, but that it has found the right balance between artistic “epiphany” and representation of the “real” through the immediate language of photography. To quote Man Ray: “Perhaps the deepest desire of any artist is to confuse or merge all the arts, just as things merge into real life”

This photograph opens the doors of a third dimension halfway between reality and the dream-perceptive world, which would not hurt if we talked about art in the classical sense, but in the case of photography today there are erroneous claims that this language is a bearer of the real. Photography in the broader sense fully represents this third dimension, this “middle zone” that hides a series of relationships: ours with the camera and what we see through it. A game of rebounds. What ensues is a reduction of the “real” to what is real for us. The scene of Brest is emblematic and manages to transport us to this middle zone, isolating what the artist thinks is real at that moment but which we normally do not perceive as such. It is easy to think once again of his photography as subtraction and reduction to the essential.

Regarding the presence of the human figure in Ghirri’s works we can say that, very often, this becomes part of a wider vision: the people in the photographs are turned backwards or otherwise are elusive or, as in the case of the image of Brest, almost inconsistent. Above all people go to complete the scene, but they are never exclusively subjects end in themselves. All this is probably the result of a conception and perception of oneself in the world within a vastly vast whole, and in fact it is as if people were part of a scenario that completes a dimension in its entirety. This total dimension favors contemplation and the epiphany, connecting perfectly with the concepts expressed above.

Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al

“The final result we want to achieve is not so much to take photographs that once again show transparency, but eventually to remove all the transparency that exists between us and the world, basically to get to see it again”.

So he states in “Thinking for Images” and you can easily guess that Ghirri is one of those photographers who does not look for his subject in a spasmodic way, but meets him. From this encounter comes the sensation, a sensation that brings the object to reveal itself in its true nature and its true meaning.

Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al

Everyday objects, trivial objects, usual corners that are simply what they are for the passer-by, while for the artist they are objects of connection between interiority and materiality.

Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al 14

And this is what Ghirri urges us to do, not to limit ourselves to a fleeting glance but to carefully observe with all our senses. The poetry of the little things of Giovanni Pascoli comes to mind, celebrating daily life is still an open challenge, but a challenge that becomes more and more complex, just as today’s everyday life is complex. All this opens the door to a series of reflections.

Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al 14
Behind The Artwork – Un approfondimento su Luigi Ghirri | Collater.al 14
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