Reviewed by Erica Vincenzi
In 1978, Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri published the book Kodachrome, featuring a series of his photographs taken with the title’s namesake, the now-discontinued Kodachrome film. The second edition was recently printed in 2013 by MACK. According to the publisher, all aspects of the new edition – design, size, sequence of photographs, etc. – remain true to the 1978 version, except the prints themselves. MACK used current technology to reproduce the prints directly from Ghirri’s negatives, allowing for a rendering of the artist’s images that is more true to the soft, yet striking, colors characteristic of the Kodachrome film, due to its outdated and complicated developing process, which was originally produced by Kodak in 1935 and discontinued only five years ago. Ghirri’s attention to color is clear in these photographs, which possess that kind of desirable, dreamy quality that today prompts us to purchase $1.99 Instagram filters. Often compared to the American photographer William Eggleston, Ghirri explored color photography during a time when only black-and-white was taken seriously by the art world. However, there is more to Ghirri’s work than just a knack for color.
The sequence of photographs in Kodachrome travels not only through European cities, but also through a progression from quiet scenes of Ghirri’s native Italy to more pointed observations of the human environment. Given the depicted scenery, these images often could be mistaken for tourist shots. A closer look, though, shows a particular attention to geometric composition that gives away the artist’s practice with the medium. Ghirri did not simply shoot his surroundings, rather his eye was trained on something particular and more telling. Ghirri points to the commonplace environment, finding cracks in the illusionary boundary between representation and reality. In this way, his photographs tease with the surreal: a closely cropped shot of a torn photograph against a yellow wall looks like a ship stranded in the desert, while the a miniature Eiffel Tower model looks like the real thing transplanted in the countryside. Ghirri’s photographs themselves act as tiny windows between the worlds of representation and reality, the fantastic and mundane, through which we see that the two are not as separate as they seem.
Ghirri also played with the image of the image, including within his frame advertisements, postcards, paintings, and mirrors. In his own words, Ghirri sought: “the real identity of man, of life, of things, from the image of man, of life, of things.” His work points to how images of things are increasingly incorporated into our lives, thereby altering the definition of the thing itself. My relationship with the Eiffel Tower is fostered not through visits to the structure itself, but through postcards, films, and black-and-white vinyl decals from IKEA. The book ends with a pair of photographs referencing a camera and a roll of film, like a final note on the medium’s own role in constructing reality, bringing attention to the visual language on which our knowledge and understanding of the world is based.
Luigi Ghirri, Kodachrome, (MACK, 2012 (2nd Edition))