Sunday, 19 June 2016

Luigi Ghirri


Brighton, June 2015

I've recently come across one of the best blogs I've ever read and, even better, it's written by one of the greats of photography, even if one not well-enough known in the English-speaking world. This "blog" is not online, however: it's a book, The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri*, recently published in English translation by Mack. I urge you to buy a copy while you still can.

I've mentioned Ghirri several times before in this blog. If you don't know his work, and don't mind coping with (or ignoring) a little spoken Italian, there's a nice YouTube video about a recent retrospective exhibition at Museo MAXXI in Rome here. Ignore the commentary – it's mostly just Italian curators doing artspeak, anyway – and look at the pictures. Splendido! There's something unique about his way of seeing that resonates with me (his first book Kodachrome, published in 1973 and republished in 2012, also by Mack, is a fresh revelation to me every time I open it) and now I find that his writing about photography is quite special, too.

I say it's a blog because many of the pieces are short and, although they range widely over international photography and art (and it is hard not to feel parochial when reading an Italian photographer who references Scottish poet Edwin Muir, or our American friend Wallace Stevens, not to mention Peter Handke or Bob Dylan) they're generally written from a personal perspective and many are "occasional" pieces in the old sense of the word, beginning "Last Thursday..." or "When I saw So-and-So's recent exhibition..." As a bonus, most are accompanied by one of Ghirri's wonderful photographs. There is also, inevitably, a degree of repetition; we all have our favourite examples and comparisons, after all. One of Ghirri's appears to be "Tom Thumb's stones" – a trail of stones left to show the way home – which mystified me at first, until I realised the reference was to a folktale better known in English as "Hop-o'-My-Thumb". Tom Thumb, as I recall, is all about being swallowed, spat out, and baked into pies. I suspect this is a translator's error. Anyone own a copy of the Italian original, published as Niente di antico sotto il sole (nothing old under the sun)?

By the way, if you do own a copy, would you like to sell it? I'm visiting Italy for the first time in forty-three years this summer, and I've found that the quickest way to an enhanced reading knowledge of a language is to read something of interest which you also have in translation. I picked up most of my Spanish, such as it is, by reading Carlos Castaneda's Teachings of Don Juan in Spanish translation in the summer of 1979, while exploring the post-Franco, pre-EEC Basque Country. Although I admit the vocabulary acquired that way can be a little specialised (brujos were thin on the ground). I learned Russian primarily from cataloguing academic texts, and thus have a suprisingly good vocabulary in the higher reaches of aesthetic theory and geophysics, but couldn't order a beer, decipher a menu, or ask for simple directions to the railway station. Or rather, I could ask the question, but not understand the reply. Although, of course, these days the response would most likely be in English, anyway. What was I saying about parochial?

Brighton, June 2015

* Pronounced "Girri", not "Jirri".

UPDATE: A reader has pointed me at an online version of Niente di antico sotto il sole and, yes, the original text has "i sassi di Pollicino" which the translator has rendered as "Tom Thumb's stones". Pollicino is the Italian version of Le Petit Poucet in Perrault's tale, usually known in English as "Hop-o'-My-Thumb" or "Little Thumbling". The tales of Tom Thumb are a different set of stories, and rather more scatological, in the English manner.

8 comments:

Thomas Rink said...

Mike, thanks for the heads up! I just ordered a new copy on amazon.de for 24 € - in four weeks, we'll head over to Scotland for our summer vacation, and I'll have plenty of time to read. I also had a look for an italian version on amazon.it and abebooks.com, but to no avail.

Best, Thomas

PS: Congratulations to your daughter's fabulous degree! Sorry for being late, but I didn't find the time to comment on your last post.

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

Yes, I've looked pretty much everywhere for a copy, and this is something I used to do for a living... It's always a good sign, when no copies of a book are available anywhere!

Scotland in July?? Hope you're not going to the west coast or Highlands. If so, you'll need midge repellent...

Mike

Thomas Rink said...

Yes, Mike, we've rent a cottage in Gairloch, Wester Ross. We've already been there last year, and still owe the kids a whale cruise - it didn't work out last year, due to frequent storms. Re insects - it was actually quite OK, compared to e.g. Sweden or our garden :-(

Best, Thomas

Mike C. said...

It is beautiful up there if you get the right weather -- many years ago B.C. (before children) we stayed in a cottage at Badcaul on Little Loch Broom, just a bit north of Gairloch, and had a great time, though if you head inland you will be pestered mercilessly by midges. On a boat trip out to the Summer Isles we had a memorable close encounter with a whale-shark. There are (were?) various interesting experiments in communal living going on out there.

Ever watched Bill Forsyth's "Local Hero"? One of my favourite films, ever.

Mike

Thomas Rink said...

Didn't know "Local Hero" yet, the wikipedia articles sounds promising, though. Thanks for the tip! I'm really looking forward to our vacation - long hikes during the day, a pint of "Red McGregor" and a good book in the evenings ...

Best, Thomas

Zouk Delors said...

Pronounced "Girri", not "Jirri".

Of course -- else it would be written "Girri", not "Ghirri".

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

Only trying to save people the acute social embarrassment of mispronouncing names in foreign. Did I ever tell the story of a friend, studying philosophy, who referred to somebody or other's (Mark? Hegel?) "grundle-gungen" (spoken in uncompromising Estuary). My, how we laughed...

Mike

Mike C. said...

Thomas,

Buy it on DVD, and if you don't love it, I'll refund the purchase. It's that good. Hopefully there are German subtitles, as you may have trouble with the accents...

Mike