By Chiara Rizzolo

The Triennale museum takes us on a photographic journey across Italian landscapes and architecture made familiar by Ghirri’s liturgical rite for the genius loci.
The landscape of architecture but also, the architecture of landscape

Omnia quae sunt, lumina sunt
“All things that are, are lights” ¹

Luighi Ghirri started taking saturated kodachrome snapshots in the early 1970s, pioneering the color photography as a new art form. The idea of a “snapshot aesthetic” had somehow already started spreading in the mid-1960s, but the majority of photographers were still using black-and-white film. It took another decade before William Eggleston – to whom Ghirri has always been likened – and Stephen Shore, to name a few, began adding the sparkle of saturated hues to their works.
Luigi Ghirri, Riviera Romagnola, 1988 - 1989 by Luigi Ghirri

Luigi Ghirri, Riviera Romagnola, 1988 – 1989 by Luigi Ghirri

Ghirri’s admiration for Eggleston, in particular, was immediate and strong. The American’s photographs looked completely different from those taken by his contemporaries. As Ghirri said in an interview in 1984, “As soon as I saw Eggleston’s works at the Stadtpark Forum in Gratz, I couldn’t help but feeling a strong emotional ‘uneasiness’. My first reaction was pure wonder. What couldn’t cease to amaze me was Eggleston’s new way to look at things. I was feeling an enchantment I had never experienced before. Those signs and those landscapes I was looking at were not the familiar signs, landscapes, and symbolic objects he used to capture. Rather, they looked kind of blurry, vague, with unusual perspectives.

Far from the urge of sharpness and precision – a common trend in Shore, Meyerowitz and Sternfeld’s photography at the time –, Eggleston was using his camera as a tool to fragment the image, to dissolve our traditional conception of a “pre–fab” world and show a different reality. It’s a formal revoluton: no centre is left to the spectator’s vision and, consequently, light ends up being so omnipresent that it somehow disappears. Originated elsewhere, it simply starts co-exhisting within the space as a “radiant sea”.
Following this philosophy, Luigi Ghirri pursued his attraction to italian landscapes, architecture and its relationship with the surrounding environment. He photographed iconic buildings as well as the local houses along his homeland Emilian fields, both with an equally poetic and liturgical eye. He critically viewed photography as a powerful visual language, the only way to handle human’s tremendous yearning to achieve more and grab a slice of infinite – a desire deeply rooted within all of us. Photographic constructions means the construction of an image.

My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes the photographer on his craft, in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale.

An old house, a roof, a vanishing decoration, a man sitting against a wall, a desert road, a mediterranean tree: these subjects stand like ‘apparitions’ in full light, reversing Ecclesiastes’ motto Nihil sub sole novum (“There is nothing new under the sun”). Instead, photography reveals there’s nothing old under the sun: we can look at a landscape a hundred times as if it was there for the very first time. Isolated from the reality which surrounds them and presented in a photograph as part of a different discourse, these images become laden with new meaning.
Ghirri’s eye on architecture is widely shown in the the exhibition “The Landscape of Architecture” at Triennale museum in Milan. Running through 26 August 2018 and featuring the fruitful relationship between Ghirri and Lotus International Architecture Magazine, the exhibition displays about 200 original photographs from the magazine archives, together with some work materials.

Divided into three sections – Italian Landscape, Domestic Design, and Architectural Images commissioned by the magazine – this neon-lit environment let us wander among images and quotes from the photographer’s writings, encouraging a personal reading of them both. “The daily encounter with reality, the fictions, the surrogates, the ambiguous, poetic or alienating aspects, all seem to preclude any way out of the labyrinth, the walls of which are ever more illusory… to the point at which we might merge with them… The meaning that I am trying to render through my work is a verification of how it is still possible to desire and face a path of knowledge, to be able finally to distinguish the precise identity of man, things, life, from the image of man, things, and life.” Luigi Ghirri
Attention is the only path towards the ineffable, the only possibile way through mistery. It is the ultimate, higher source of imagination. Reality, knowledge and fairytale somehow intertwine creating new worlds, new symbols, new images-within-the-image. Lined up, all these places (“loci”) recreate a strange sequence made of stones, churches, blue seascapes, country roads, objects. These “impossibile landscapes” – as Ghirri called them –, suddenly become familiar like an old enigma no longer inscrutable and indecipherable, finally solved by the heart.
Luigi Ghirri, 'I Bagni Misteriosi' di Giorgio de Chirico e la Triennale, 1986

Luigi Ghirri, ‘I Bagni Misteriosi’ di Giorgio de Chirico e la Triennale, 1986

¹ J. S. Eriugena (c. 815 – c. 877, theologian, neoplatonist philosopher, and poet)