In the year 2000 I completed a series of works: Sea of Marmara, ships lying nearby Istanbul. For many years I was already intrigued by these ships, staying there as special and poetic objects in the huge space of the sea, mostly waiting for a reason to sail on. But after these series I was looking for a comparable phenomenon, not in the abstract space of the sea, but in a cultural landscape. Considering emptiness and space, the Po-valley had something similar as the sea, and fitted just right for this condition. An empty valley, but still ‘touched’ by roads and buildings. Also here I had been speeding through several times from north to south, but decided just as with the ships to travel to Ferrara especially for this valley with its poetic architecture. Writers as Gianni Celati (Tales from the Po-Valley) and Giorgio Bassani (The story of Ferrara), carry you along this area, you can’t imagine yourself a better introduction. In the stories of Ferrara a culture becomes visible, of lives and the history of the city and in Celati’s tales you travel along through this region that is so desolated and affected.
But it is the photographer Luigi Ghirri who added a photographic image to what was missing. Not a documentary image showing this region in a journalistic way, but in an almost autobiographical way developing his own photographic vision, into an imaginary story telling one. Ghirri is talking during a photographic colloquium on the Sorbonne in Paris during the Mois de la Photo in 1984 (published in: Les cahiers de la photographie, nr 15 L’Oeuvre photographique) about two books from his childhood, his family album and Atlante, a book with geographical maps and pictures from the whole world. Going back and forth between both books, between the small and the big world, the need is being born to stay or to leave, a division between the internal and the external, between the personal history and the communication with others. In his work he tries to combine both worlds and he takes therein all his freedom. He refers to Atlante in his book with the same title, published in 1999 by Edizione Charta, an imaginary album with landscapes of imagination, strongly zoomed in, to realize an image on its own that coincides with his ‘inner’ image.
In Etude 13 L’Invitation au voyage I refer to Luigi Ghirri, of which Helena did send me a photo she took from a scene in two pictures, in a museum roon somewhere in the world. “Ingredients: a room, a curtain and a piano. The framed photographs are hanging above each other. The diptych shows a curtain that blows in two steps of the wind through the open window continually blowing it further, as in a game of covering.”
These are typical Ghirri pictures, sober, almost monochromatic, storytelling. The same goes for the series that he made in Morandi’s atelier, after his death. It’s special that two different photographers captured this studio. The other one was Gianni Berengo Gardin. Both series have been published in books. Gardin’s photo’s (Lo studio di Giorgio Morandi, Edizione Charta Firenze 1993) in black-and-white and it’s wondrous that the black-and-white pictures show another realism as the almost creamy pictures of Ghirri in Atelier Morandi (published by Contrejour/Palomar Paris 1992). Gardin’s pictures are more graphic, almost harsh, and more violent and remain more on the outside. Ghirri’s pictures on the contrary are more silent, with some more distance, modest and seem to reach closer to the soul of Morandi’s person and work.
Luigi Ghirri took all liberty in his relatively short career (he died much too young) to keep on researching, trying to understand photography as a medium to represent his landscapes, his inner landscapes, reflected in the still-lives from Morandi’s studio, from other places, the continuous exchange between images, imagination and representation, using the landscape, books, objects, or combinations of all of them.
Ghirri has been busy intensively with the architecture of Aldo Rossi, a long lasting research of the relationship between his buildings and space and landscape. Not usual architecture photography, in which every realized building remains photographically a model most of the time. Ghirri was looking for the way a living building relates itself to the landscape. Especially his series of Cimitero de San Cataldo in Modena is a good example of that. Always trying to find the special distance to combine all components of the spectator, Ghirri, the building and the landscape into a true unity.
By coincidence I found in a magazine series I Grandi Fotografi, published by Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri from 1983, a picture made by Ghirri in Amsterdam in 1981. There he has made new work, invited by his compatriot Lorenzo Merlo, who was director of the Canon Photo Gallery in the Reestraat in Amsterdam, so as on the big 50×60 Polaroid sizes, just as the top of other young European photographers in those days. It’s again a real Ghirri-picture, of a representation with a grand piano… how is that possible. Soft, mysterious, sober and rich. In the Piano Etudes performance the etude in which Ghirri plays a part, he is interpreted through my voice, the one photographer meets the other in a theatre room, somewhere in the world.