Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri made his first trip to Puglia, the peninsular region at the ‘heel’ of southern Italy, in 1982. Over the next decade, he would return regularly to photograph the area’s white-walled towns, sleepy beaches, and distinctive soft light. By the time of his death in 1992, at age 49, Ghirri had taken some 2,000 pictures in Puglia, most of which have never been seen publicly. The region represented a sea change in the photographer’s work, who was known for his work in his native northern Italy, but its impact hasn’t been fully explored.
Puglia: Tra albe e tramonti (“Puglia: From Sunrises to Sunsets”) is a thoughtful tribute to Ghirri’s years-long Apulian project. Compiled by the photographer’s daughter, Adele Ghirri, the book builds on a 1982 maquette for a catalogue that was never realized. Here, Adele has expanded the selection to include images from all of her father’s trips to Puglia, offering us a wider view of his work in the region. During his visits, Ghirri roamed around by car and on foot from sunrise to sunset, as the book’s title suggests. His pictures show us a place that, despite its tourist attractions, remains a quiet, earnest blend of old and new.
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The book opens in the ancient, narrow streets of Bitonto and other villages. Ghirri’s precisely framed photos capture the quietude of these places, and the moments when it’s occasionally broken by children playing soccer and riding bikes. Mostly, though, Ghirri is what the writer Arturo Carlo Quintavalle describes in one of the book’s essays as an “architect of space” who is fixated on the subtle hues and textures formed by the doors, walls, windows, arches, and stairs around him. Pervaded by the color white, these images have a chalky, tactile quality, but also an auditory one: we seem to feel the hushed stillness of the places Ghirri records.
Gradually, the photos move to the coast, where Puglia’s beaches and boats are framed by Ghirri’s strong horizon lines and diagonal telephone wires. The photographer looks for symmetry and shapes here, too, but there’s a palpable calm and openness away from the towns’ tightly packed, enclosed streets. Strong shadows and careful compositions give a cinematic, almost narrative quality to Ghirri’s pictures without feeling too obvious.
Ghirri’s trips to photograph Puglia commingled with vacation time there with friends and family. Perhaps for this reason, his images also contain a sense of ease and genuine affection beyond their sharp compositions and savory textures. It is this deep connection that will keep viewers returning to these images.
Puglia: Tra albe e tramonti by Luigi Ghirri is published by Mack Books.