Luigi Ghirri: the acclaimed Italian photographer on show in Parma

The city of Parma pays tribute to the Italian photographer on the thirtieth anniversary of his death with a poetic visual journey through his eclectic photographic practice

February 14, 2022 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Luigi Ghirri, a visionary photographer who made Italy with all its strangeness, contradictions and infinite beauties, his subject of choice. The city of Parma decided to celebrate with a major exhibition the career and life of an artist who, while remaining anchored in his country and particularly in the Emilia Romagna region – where he was born on 5 January 1943 -, managed to cross national borders and become one of the greatest exponents of landscape photography of the last century by systematically intertwining it with the contradictions of the artificial world , the citation of history and the myth of consumerism. 

La Biblioteca Civica, Santa Maria di Sala, Padova, 1988 - Foto Luigi Ghirri. Photo courtesy @Eredi Luigi Ghirri

The exhibition “Luigi Ghirri. Labirinti della Visione”, set up in the premises of Palazzo del Governatore until February 17, deals with all the key themes of Ghirri’s work through the photographs he left to the CSAC- Centro Studi e Archivio della Comunicazione of the University of Parma on the occasion of the publication of the volume ” Viaggio dentro un antico labirinto ” (1991), the last photographer’s monograph in collaboration with Arturo Carlo Quintavalle. The exhibition itinerary, expertly curated by Paolo Barbaro and Claudia Cavatorta, is in fact labyrinthine as the spectators find themselves catapulted into the artist’s universe. The evocative atmosphere enhanced by the soft lights suggests to the viewer an intimate and close approach to the photographs on display and Ghirri’s relationship with photography. Inside the rooms of Palazzo del Governatore visitors have the opportunity to get to know some of the photographs Ghirri loved most or that he used as source of inspiration, such as those of Fratelli Alinari, Dorothea Lange or Walker Evans, the author he admired the most and was fundamental for his photographic research.

The main corpus of works is also accompanied by a selection of photographs from previous series produced by Ghirri in the seventies such as “Colazione sull’erba” – a work that focuses on the relationship between nature and artifice through an intimate look at the condominium gardens and single-family houses in the suburbs – or “Kodachrome” – his first book dedicated to the photographs taken in his first eight years of activity. The photographs selected by the curatorial team, varying in subject and setting, thus trace a sort of timeline of Ghirri’s prolific career. From pseudo-metaphysical scenarios in which the human figure is a sporadic element, if not completely absent, to the museums series in which people, from passive observers, become the main subjects sometimes disturbing, sometimes in perfect harmony with the museum exhibits.

Il Museo Glauco Lombardi, Parma, 1985 Foto Luigi Ghirri. Photo courtesy @Eredi Luigi Ghirri

Crossing Italy from north to south – Trento, Valle D’Aosta, Emilia-Romagna, Tuscany, Capri and Puglia, among others – “Labirinti della Visione” demonstrates how Ghirri’s work is deeply intertwined with the recent history of the Bel Paese and how, with only a camera and a sober but never banal use of the image, he managed to narrate the changes, the oddities and the wonders of our country. In “Lezioni di fotografia” (1989) Ghirri claimed: «As I said before, regardless of everything, what we can find in reality is infinitely more varied and interesting than all the colored filters we can put in front of the lamps. You just have to get used to reading it». At the end of the exhibition the question naturally arises: what would he have grasped of these complex and hostile times we are living in? And while the answer will remain a mystery, the only certainty is that Ghirri’s discreet yet honest voice left us too soon.

La psiche al Museo Archeologico, Napoli, 1980 - Foto Luigi Ghirri. Photo courtesy @Eredi Luigi Ghirri
Agnese Torres
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