"There has never been a chance outside of Italy to see a substantial body of his work” - until now, with curator James Lingwood spearheading a major revival at Museum Folkwang and beyond
“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs,” writes photographer and prolific writer on his craft, Luigi Ghirri in his 1973 essay, Fotografie del periodo iniziale.
Trained as a surveyor, the iconography of maps and atlases prevail Ghirri’s photography. “But what if you map his work?” asks curator James Lingwood. “He was, in a way, mapping the changing topography of modern life in Europe in the 1970s and also the change in the relationship between people and images.”
The Map and the Territory, opening at the Museum Folkwang on 4 May, will exhibit over 200 photographs focusing on Ghirri’s work during the first decade of his working life. The exhibition, which is set to be the first museum survey of Ghirri’s photography to be presented outside of his native Italy, will travel to two other major museums in Europe – the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, and then the Jeu de Paume in Paris.
Ghirri captured life in Europe in the 1970 through landscapes, people, and still-lifes with a soft and lucid elegance. His work is tightly cropped, yet sparse and economical – in contrast with contemporaries like William Eggleston, says Lingwood. “They have a beautiful sense of space about them,” he adds.
Widely credited as the pioneer of colour photography in Europe – which at the time was struggling to find its way into museums and galleries – Ghirri was unphased by the medium’s association with tourist snaps. “I take photographs in colour because the real world is in colour, and because colour film has been invented,” he wrote.
According to Lingwood, curator of the exhibition, Ghirri is “one of the most significant figures in the history of photography in the last 50 years”. He has been quietly influential, he adds, but until now, “there has never been a chance outside of Italy to see a substantial body of his work”.
Now, more than 20 years after his death in 1992, he’s gaining wider recognition, championed by artists such as Thomas Demand over the last ten years, and his writings published in English two years ago. “There was no-one else who built a body of work in colour, in such range and depth, in 1970s Europe,” says Lingwood.
Focusing on the first decade of Ghirri’s work, The Map and the Territory will subdivide the photographs into the 14 initial groupings from Ghirri’s defining exhibition of the 1970s, Vera Fotografia (1979) in Parma. “We were very keen to show his work in the particular grouping that he thought about,” Lingwood explains. “He thought of these groups being in themselves works, like open works”.
To accompany the show Lingwood has compiled a book of the same name, which includes every photograph from the exhibition plus all of Ghirri’s writing from the 1970s, and which is published by MACK Books.
Luigi Ghirri, The Map and the Territory will run at Museum Folkwang from 04 May – 22 July; Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain from 25 September – 07 January, 2019; and Jeu de Paume, Paris, France from 12 February – 20 May 2019 The accompanying book will be published by MACK Books in June 2018 in English, German, Spanish and French editions, priced £40 http://www.mackbooks.co.uk/books/1212-The-Map-and-The-Territory.html