Luigi Ghirri

The Complete Essays 1973-1991


Written in the first person, this collection of essays by Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri, published by MACK and introduced by Francesco Zanot, is rich, personal and encyclopaedic in its contents. Ghirri tells us in his 1973 essay Atlas: “An atlas is the book, a place where all the features of the Earth, from the natural to the cultural, are conveniently represented: mountains, lakes, pyramids, oceans, villages, stars and islands. In this expanse of words and descriptions, we might locate the place where we live, or where we want to go, and the path to follow”. As the atlas described here is all-encompassing, so too are the subjects Ghirri examines. Ghirri the writer, with clarity and simplicity, muses on diverse elements of his public and private life as well as of course the history and theory of photography. He does so with sharp and informal detail, using anecdotal exordium to connect the personal to the profound in his essays. As Francesco Zanot tell us in his introduction to the book: “each page is pervaded by the echo of his intimate and visceral attachment to his subject.”

Many of the essays are short, a page or two, and this is Ghirri’s strength as a writer – so much encapsulated in so few words. Dispersed evenly but carefully through the book is a collection of photographs serving to illustrate the essays. They seem to do more than simply that though, transforming Ghirri’s references to novels, paintings and other matters cultural into metaphors and complex visual analogies. Ghirri’s photography is a history of sensations, a word he uses to describe the technological impact of the photographic image on the historical canon in his short, typewritten 1989 essay History of Photography. Another essay from the same year, The Doing of Things, sees Ghirri describing the work of photographer Antonio Contiero in a manner that might serve well as the Ghirrian conception of photography par excellence: “for it is not simply a combination of different techniques and materials… nor is it simply an exercise in interference and influence; rather [photography] concerns the deep layering of image and perception, which have always accompanied the ‘doing of things’.”

Perhaps, contrary to popular opinion, Ghirri – as both writer and photographer – is a man of action and movement, not one for getting trapped in the stillness of the deadpan aesthetic with which he is so often associated.

Daniel C Blight

All images courtesy of MACK. © Luigi Ghirri