Luigi Ghirri

“I’ve always approached the ‘scene I was looking to represent’ directly, standing squarely in front of my subject to avoid any kind of slants or vanishing points, cuts or leaks.” (Luigi Ghirri: The Complete Essays, 1973-1991)

That’s the thing about Luigi Ghirri’s work that struck me instantly when I saw someone sharing his work a few weeks ago; that, followed immediately by an eerie sense of familiarity: ‘I could have taken this very shot.’

This spooky feeling of déjà vu made me want to read what this man had to say, after having started this journey with Sontag, Benjamin, and Barthes, so I made my first @mack_books purchase, to hear some theory from an actual practitioner for a change:

“I take photographs in colour because the real world is in colour, and because colour film has been invented. The so-called ‘alternative techniques or ‘darkroom experiments’ have always reminded me of amateur DIY, with their rather ridiculous attempts to revisit obsolete photographic processes or to try out anti-technological methods, which goes against the very idea of photography!”

I’m not sure I agree with Ghirri’s “very idea of photography,” but I’m intrigued.

“I generally use a normal lens, and sometimes a wide-angle lens or a medium telephoto lens. I don’t use any special lenses or filters because I don’t like to put my aims and objectives on show – and anyway, my objective has never been of the optical kind, but rather something else.”

I think I’ve aspired to that kind of deductive reasoning in the past, but I’m too much of an intuitive to maintain that ethos dogmatically. And yet, I do love Ghirri’s aspirations for his work:

“My aim is not to make PHOTOGRAPHS, but rather CHARTS and MAPS that might at the same time constitute photographs.”

Amen. May it be so, somehow.


“I have never been interested in what is commonly referred to as style. Style is a coded reading, and I believe photography to be a codeless language, and rather than a kind of restriction, it is a broadening and expansion of communication.

Photographic ‘style’ is inherent in the very choice of photography as a language, and its way of seeing the world is inevitably limited by horizontal and vertical lines, i.e. what is caught within the frame. In this sense, photography always implies subtraction, or a sense of something missing, something outside the frame.” (Luigi Ghirri)

It’s interesting to read what Ghirri had to say about not seeking a style when that very “codeless language” is the “style” that drew me to his work. As I told @saraleopoldphoto that one time, I’m even tempted to fake an origin story of my burgeoning hobby by laying claim to Ghirri as some kind of pre-cognitive influence on me – I think it would make me sound more interesting at photography meetups.

*sips espresso*

‘Yes, I follow an Italian school of photo-documentary.‘

More seriously though, there’s an almost stubborn naïveté in holding on to an idea of photography as an act of subtraction. We’ll probably be reflecting on that a lot as we continue to clumsily sleepwalk into the coming age of AI-generated imagery: an additive and potentially wasteful age, where less will feel so much more like more.


“The theme of reality and fiction, of being and seeming, draws attention to the destruction of direct experience – this shift to the world of images – and it requires us to strive, daily, to see beyond the surface, and to distinguish between true and false. The recovery of direct experience can start only from an awareness that destruction has occurred. Perhaps it’s for this reason that many people, when writing about photography, say that it always shows what we already know – that which is common knowledge. I think this assertion should be corrected to say instead: photography always shows what we already think we know. […] Photography is in any case always surreal in its changes of scale and its constant juxtapositions, and in comprising both the conscious (?) and unconscious (?) images of a reality no longer present. Reality is being transformed into a colossal photograph, and the photomontage already exists: it’s called the real world.”

(Luigi Ghirri, 1979)


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