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. 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”.
“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.
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