Luigi Ghirri’s Kodachromes

Bologna, 1973, Luigi Ghirri, CSAC, Università di Parma © Succession Luigi Ghirri

The Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri’s (1943- 1992) used his favorite film —Kodak’s Kodachrome— to make pioneering color photographs during the 70’s at a time when most art photographers insisted on portraying the world in black and white. Although he is less known than his American counterparts —William Eggleston, Stephen Shore or Robert Adams— his work marked a generation of European photographers. He is featured this spring with an exhibition “Carte et Territoires” (Map & Territory) at Paris’ Jeu de Paume (to June 02, 2019).

Luigi Ghirri (a trained surveyor) began taking photographs on the weekends in the early 1970s, devising projects with themes as he roamed the streets, piazzas and suburbs of Modena. “I’m particularly interested in the urban landscape” Ghirri said. “and the outskirts of towns, because that’s the reality that I experience every day, that I know best and that I’m able to represent as a “new landscape.”

By the end of the decade, Ghirri had accumulated thousands of pictures while developing a unique style and visual vocabulary. He self-published his landmark photo book “Kodachrome” in 1978. The next year the University of Parma invited Ghirri to show his work with the exhibition “Vera Fotografia,” featuring fourteen of his themed projects.

The “Carte et Territoires” retrospective currently at the Jeu de Paume is based on Ghirri’s University of Parma exhibition held in 1979. It includes both highly structured projects such as “Atlante “(1973) and “Colazione sull’erba” (1972-1974) as well as more diverse groups such as “F/11, 1/125, Natural Light.”

Throughout his photography career Ghirri wrote extensively about what he called the “Enigma of Photography.” About maps he said “My aim is not to make photographs, but rather charts and maps that might at the same time constitute photographs.”

While it is true that color photos taken fifty years ago risk being a little kitschy, Ghirri’s work transcends the nostalgic. His photographs —and the thinking behind them— are as relevant today as when he took them. Speaking about how many of his photos contain other photos he said: “Many have mistaken these photographs for photomontages… Reality is being transformed into a colossal photograph, and the photomontage already exists, it’s called the real world.”

Luigi Ghirri “Cartes et Territoires” to June 02, 2019, Jeu de Paume. Article quotes from “Luigi Ghirri, The Complete Essays 1973-1991” (available at Jeu de Paume bookshop).