It’s beautiful here, isn’t it… was the first book published on Ghirri in the United States. It appeared in 2008, and I found my way to Ghirri in 2016, I think, maybe thanks to Teju Cole’s article in the New York Times Magazine, following an interview I heard with him on the Magic Hour podcast (and saved for later listening), so I’m a bit late to the party.
It’s beautiful… opens with “some thoughts on Luigi Ghirri” by William Eggleston, taken from a 2005 conversation with Melissa Harris, followed by an introductory essay, “Luigi Ghirri and the indefinable,” by Germano Celant.
Eggleston looks at and comments on pictures.
I am extremely drawn to the minimal and more sublime aspects of Ghirri’s work, as well as those images that are more confounding—those in which you don’t know exactly what you are looking at, in which he is gently teasing the viewer about what is real and what is not….
There’s a lot Ghirri did that I don’t do, and that I probably won’t do—but I’m sure glad he did it.Eggleston, William, in conversation with Melissa Harris. “some thoughts on luigi ghirri,” in It’s beautiful here isn’t it… Aperture, New York, 2008. p. 11
Celant places Ghirri in a sort of response to 1960s advances in and expansions of photography, eschewing the Process and Conceptual strains and turning towards the Metaphysical, the Surrealistic, with a contemporary (1970s) vision. Where surrealist artists used collage and constructed scenes (photograms, painting, etc.), Ghirri found the surreal out in the real world, found di Chirico and Morandi in the “Italia in Miniatura” park in Rimini, photographed bits of maps, scenes in mirrors, frames within frames within the frame.
Through the mirroring of positive and negative, projected and recorded, real and reflected, his photography creates a “nonplace,” establishes a duplicity between void and solid, here and elsewhere. The image is interpretable as both reality and dream. In Ghirri’s terrain we can no longer take for granted an unambiguous discourse, and even less a single or unifiable type of knowledge. Instead, a different knowledge—of the real and unreal, the physical and the metaphysical—can emerge.Celant, Germano. “Luigi Ghirri and the indefinable,” in It’s beautiful here, isn’t it… Aperture, New York, 2008. p. 15
Following the Celant essay, Ghirri’s photographs and illustrations are presented in a sort of survey of themes and modes, jumping back and forth over roughly 20 years of work. Having only previously seen Kodachrome, there are some wonderful surprises in Ghirri’s oeuvre. There is an amazing variety in the pictures, but all display Ghirri’s incredible vision.
He finds ways to frame things, organize the image, in ways that create multiple vistas, multiple viewpoints. He keeps your eye moving around, studying. It’s clear that he knows Art History: Magritte is all over the place in his work; Di Chirico makes appearances. Simultaneously, he predicts, or, rather, channels the same forces that guided Eggleston and other New Color and New Topographics photographers, in more pastel tones and less urgent scenes. He jumps between landscapes and still lifes, between straight photography and photo illustration. It’s a staggering variety, somehow unified: once you start looking closely, they’re all obviously Ghirri’s.
After the pictures, Paola Ghirri writes a short memoriam about her too short relationship with Luigi and his ways of looking, and then there are fourteen essays by Ghirri, newly translated by Marguerite Shore—the essays were later reprinted in The Complete Essays 1973-1991, published by Mack in 2016 and reviewed here—and a thorough biographical chronology by Elana Re.
All in all, It’s beautiful here, isn’t it… is a great introduction to Ghirri, and though I tend to prefer unified bodies of work (like Kodachrome), it’s good to have a survey too, especially since Ghirri published essays and photographs in numerous magazines and a double handful of books that are all in Italian and not readily available.
It’s beautiful here, isn’t it… was recently reprinted by Aperture. I picked up this mint condition first edition for cheap from Half Price Books, I think, so it’s widely available, and you should pick one up.