University: Dublin Institute of Technology, School of Media, Ireland
Year of graduation: 2015
Thesis: It’s Beautiful Here Isn't It?: The Legacy and Re-presentation of Luigi Ghirri
Contacts: francesco.tbi[at]gmail[dot]com | website
Abstract: Although Luigi Ghirri is widely recognized as one of the most influential Italian photographers of twentieth century, his work remains very little known outside Italy. But, recent publications and exhibitions are starting to generate greater international interest, making acknowledgement of his work more than just a re-discovery. This dissertation aims to delineate the historical reasons that helped Ghirri to develop a new photographic language capable to effectively describe the changes occurring in contemporary Italy when he was working. At the same time, Ghirri’s practice questions the very act of looking, positioning his art in direct conversation with the medium and the representation of the man-altered landscape. Using It’s Beautiful Here Isn't It (2008) the dissertation attempts to question the strategies of representation deployed for this particular publication but also to find out how Ghirri’s work has been repositioned for an international audience. This re-discovery of his work has additionally generated a debate about Ghirri’s practice in Italy which has ramifications for Italian contemporary photography.
The representation of man-altered landscape in contemporary photographic practices is a challenging task which has been engaged in by many Italian photographer attempting to use the photographic medium as vehicle to describe the shifting identity of Italian culture across the 1970s and 1980s.
In writing about the state of Italian photography Roberta Valtorta points out that Italian photography has been characterised by a lack of continuity, in which styles continue to change and be absorbed collectively by Italian visual culture without establishing any consistent methodology and approach to the representation of landscape. This is probably due the “fragmentary nature of Italian culture” but also is a byproduct of the “lack of a systematic approach to teaching and exhibiting photography” (Valtorta, 2013: 26). Despite that, it is still possible to recognize in Italian post-war photography two main approaches, one a neorealist- style reportage mainly focused on the representation of marginal spaces and the other an amateurish style normally deployed by conceptual photographers. However both styles have contributed actively to shape Italian contemporary photography as we recognise it today. In this climate Luigi Ghirri’s approach to the medium emerges as an attempt to discover different methodologies of representation that communicate to the viewer as an attempt to challenge a system of representation over-run by clichéd images. His approach represents a shift in the depiction of the man-altered landscape, so important for the cultural debates raised during 1970s and 1980s promoting collaboration with other practitioners, acknowledging the influence of New Topographics and Postmodernims.
Ghirri’s preference for the banal and the everyday was central to all his work but especially for the representation of landscape which explored how the land changed during the industrial boom of the 1970s. Maria Antonella Pelizzari argues that his focus on «minor Italy...drawn to the rediscovery of a new landscape» is an approach aimed to lead the reader into a deeper understanding of the everyday and the banal since his approach is “new” in terms of subject and style, revealing both his fascination for the modern and also a palpable nostalgia for the past (Pelizzari, 2013: 11).
This dissertation aims to examine the historical socio-political backdrop in which such changes have occurred, specifically in relation to the practice of Luigi Ghirri and his approach to the representation of landscape in contemporary Italy. Furthermore, it questions how his work has been repositioned in an international context through a critical deconstruction of Ghirri’s book Its Beautiful Here Isn’t It? (2008), a publication curated by Aperture and specifically made to target an international audience due the renewed interest in his work. His early death, his posthumous reputation and the role of his estate are fundamental to these developments.
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