Luigi Ghirri. Flatness and Its Frame — Stephen Horne

[Fall 2019]

By Stephen Horne

The Map and The Territory is a large and intricate exhibition of colour photographs by the late Italian artist Luigi Ghirri at the Jeu de Paume in Paris.1 No doubt the curator of the exhibition, James Lingwood, adopted this title following up on a note that Ghirri wrote in 1970 in which he explained that “his aim was not to make photographs, but rather charts and maps.”2

An early image, Modena (1970), could be a fragment from arte povera, and this suggests we might gain insight into Ghirri’s life and work by asking after the spirit of arte povera, the most important artistic current of the epoch in Italy. When he turned to photography, Ghirri abandoned his profession as a land surveyor, but his direction in photography suggests that he had not entirely forgotten the procedures of that profession, which is also a kind of framing activity related to the work of architecture. It might also be interesting to connect Ghirri’s story with the work of the American architectural theorist Kenneth Frampton, whose theory of dwelling in the local could be pertinent in relation to exploring, and perhaps expanding, the relevance of Ghirri’s practice.

“I have always worked on any (initial) project, not conforming to a rigid scheme, but remaining open to intuition and the chance occurrences I encounter over the course of the work.” These words by Ghirri partially describe his photographic practice and what distinguishes it from that of other photographers whom we might see in institutional galleries and museums, even though the subjects could be similar…

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1 The exhibition Luigi Ghirri : Cartes et territoires was held 12 February–2 June 2019.
2 Luigi Ghirri, The Complete Essays 1973-1991, trans. Ben Bazalgette and Marguerite
Shore (London: MACK, 2017), 22. 3 Ibid., 27.

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