Luigi Ghirri Italian, 1943-1992


Luigi Ghirri (1943 – 1992) was an Italian photographer who, beginning in the 1970s, produced pioneering color photographs of landscape and architecture within the milieu of conceptual art. Ghirri’s photographs are presented with a deadpan, often ironic wit and always consider the tenuous balance between people and their surroundings. He worked in series, photographing parks, beaches, and urban scenes of his native Italy, producing modestly sized, meticulously made prints. His use of color has been lauded for its capacity to express “both prescience and nostalgia” in its distinct encapsulation of the first wave of color photography. 

Luigi Ghirri spent his working life in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, where he produced one of the most open and layered bodies of work in the history of photography. Although he exhibited extensively during his lifetime and was at the height of his powers when he died in 1992, it has only been after his untimely death that his true achievement has begun to be appreciated. In 2008, the Aperture Foundation produced the first book on Ghirri in English, and in 2010, Thomas Demand organized the acclaimed exhibition La Carte d’Après Nature around the Ghirri’s photographs. His work was featured in the 2011 Venice Biennale, and in 2012 the exhibition Luigi Ghirri – Project Prints was held at the Castello di Rivoli in Turin. The largest exhibition of Ghirri’s oeuvre opened April 2013 at the MAXXI Museum in Rome. Ghirri’s photographs were exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale.


Luigi Ghirri was born on 5 January in Scandiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia in 1943. He moved to Modena in 1960s, where he study geometry and obtained his degree in 1962. Ghirri’s artistic career as photographer started in the early seventies, when he explored through his camera the surrounding environment of the city of Modena, photographing landscapes, people in their day by day activities and objects, such as posters, signs, shop-windows and items found on the street, developing in this way his first body of works called  Paesaggi di cartone (Cardboard Landscapes). In 1972, Ghirri met the artist Franco Vaccari, with whom he considered the role of photography in contemporary art, theorizing on the necessity for the artist to find both the rational and emotional capacity of deciphering information gather through perception and turning it into a ‘visual thought’. 


This concept was the supporting structure for the creation of the series Colazione sull’erba (Breakfast on the grass) a series of urban scenes focusing on the relationship between nature and artificiality. In the same year, Luigi Ghirri had his first exhibition in Modena, in the hall of the Canalgrande Hotel, called Luigi Ghirri – fotografie 1970-71, a selection of work made in collaboration with Franco Vaccari. 


In 1973 he completed the series ‘Atlante’ – a photo essay forming a journey of discovery through the pages of an atlas – and in 1974 he quitted his job as surveyor to become a professional photographer. The same year he exhibited his series Paesaggi di cartone at Galleria Diaframma in Milan and the series ‘Atlante’ at the Neikug gallery in NY. 


In 1975, Ghirri is chosen as “discovery” of the year by Time Life and Ghirri’s portfolio is published in the prestigious ‘Time-Life Photography Year’. 


In 1977 he founded the publishing house Punto e Virgola, together with Paola Borgonzoni, Ghirri’s future wife, and Giovanni Chiaramonte. In 1978 Ghirri published for Punto e Virgola his book Kodacrome, a collection of pictures of this first eight years as a photographer, mainly from his series Paesaggi di Cartone and Fotografie del periodo iniziale. In the same year he exhibited at the Venice Biennale in a collective exhibition called ‘L’Immagine Provocata’. 


In 1979, the University of Parma dedicated a solo exhibition curated by Arturo Carlo Quintavalle and Massimo Mussini entitled Vera Fotografia (True Photography) – an exhibition-cum-anthology in which 700 photographs were exhibited. In 1980, Ghirri took part in the collective exhibition Ils se disent peintres, ils se disent photographescurated by Suzanne Pagé e Michel Nuridsany, that explored the middle ground between art and photography and saw Ghirri’s photographs displayed along those of international artists such as Christian Boltanski, Hans Peter Feldmann, Gilbert and George, Giuseppe Penone and Cindy Sherman. 


In 1982, Ghirri is invited to exhibiting in ‘Fotographie 1922-1982’ at Photokina in Cologne and, the following year he is appointed by Lotus International magazine to make a photo reportage of Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery in Mondena. From now on, Luigi Ghirri’s works focused on the analysis of both architecture and the Italian landscape. He receives assignments from public and private institutions: he photographs thermal stations for the region of Emilia Romagna, the Versailles castle and gardens for the French ministry of Culture, the region of Modena for the Italian Touring Club, and the Po Valley for the group Riello. 


His extensive and in-depth analysis on the theme of landscape reached his zenith towards the end of the 80’s, when his series of works entitled Paesaggio Italiano (Italian landscape) and Il profile delle nuvole (Clouds’ profile) are published


In 1991, Ghirri completed his two-year project on Giorgio Morandi – a series of photos of the artist’s studio. This would be Luigi Ghirri’s last work. He died the following year of heart attack at the age of 49.