In 1975, Arturo Carlo Quintavalle arrived at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with a bundle of photographs from four Italian photographers and an album by Luigi Ghirri called Paesaggi di Cartone: Photographie sud 1971-1973. The Museum happily received the work, logged it, and shoved it all into the archives, never to be seen again. Never, that is, until Quentin Bajac, then the new director of the Department of Photography at MoMA, (probably with the help of some interns) went on a hunt for Ghirri work that he thought might be in the archives somewhere…
Rediscovered sometime in the 2010s, Moma helpfully reproduced the album as Cardboard Landscapes: Photographs from 1971-1973, and I snagged a copy.
I’m something of a Ghirri fan, though more on the theory side than anything. I’ve resolutely avoided the half dozen or more books that came out over the past few years. Once I acquired Kodachrome and It’s beautiful here, isn’t it?, I figured I had enough. But Cardboard Landscapes is different, somehow: a long-lost, long forgotten, complete and unified body of work, from the period just before and around Kodachrome? I had to have it.
And I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a wonderfully fun and complete sort of statement. The work is unified, well sequenced, and beautifully printed, and I could probably leave it at that… Really, given time and life constraints right now, I should leave it at that. After all, if you know Ghirri, then you probably know more or less what to expect, and if you don’t know Ghirri, well pick up a copy of Kodachrome and find out.
Cardboard Landscapes is very much Ghirri. For it, he collected photographs of photographs. Pictures he made of pictures that other people made. It’s not Ricard Prince, or not exactly, and pays some homage—unintentional, perhaps?—to Evans and Atget. Essentially, Ghirri photographed any sort of photograph he found out in the world: portraits in little frames on shelves; large advertisements; life size cutouts; wheat pasted flyers and ads; school pictures & portrait studio ads; paste-ups in various stats of decay—including a couple of memorable series, taken days or weeks apart as the ad slowly disintegrates. The sequencing is good, if a bit heavy handed in spots, and the whole thing just works and makes me kinda want to do some photo album type stuff…
MoMA printed Allah-knows how many copies of this, and you can find a copy direct from the Museum store and at fine retailers elsewhere. If you want a book of well-sequenced, well-printed, photographs made in the early 1970s by one of the early champions and masters of color photography, Cardboard Landscapes is a good one to look for.