… my role as a photographer is never that of an author, a chronicler, or a director; my role should be indistinguishable from those I photograph.
This is from the essay ‘Catalogue’ 1970-1979 found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016):
… I didn’t want the title of the work [Catalogue] to limit my choices; rather, I tried to suggest that meaning arises from accretion, from building up data in order to make distinctions and see connections, to reveal relationships between the parts, or to take mechanisms apart.
The sequences presented here have precisely this intention. By comparing the supposedly identical and apparently different, I tried to unmask the mechanical nature of the gaze, a kind of empty seeing caused by repetition, which seems to deliberately obstruct the legibility of the world around us. In Catalogue, rather than displaying a series of examples, I wanted to show how our knowledge of things begins by starting to look at things ‘actively’ — as opposed to a ‘passive,’ empty seeing.
The will to catalogue has proliferated in a literal sense (inventories of cars, trucks, gadgets, etc.) as if we are preparing documents for a second Noah’s Ark. And yet in these accumulations of objects, gestures and people, we are not assembling a stronger testimony, or accumulating anything that amounts to proof. Rather, cataloging is a kind of compulsive activity that we can’t suppress, and that leads only to the numbing of our eyes — to an anaesthesia of the gaze.
Next is from ‘f/11, 1/125, Natural Light’ 1970-1079:
… There is a sense that we are always actors in events that we, on the whole, don’t fully understand, set against fictitious backdrops and scenery. Even when we entrust one of our identities to a photograph, we should not forget that the quest for identity is always a difficult one. And so I want to try and emphasize the existence of multiplicity, and of there being more than one image. In this series, as people pose for a holiday snap, it becomes clear that another image exists, one very similar to mine, but one that I have never seen, and that the picture that we cannot see holds the image they wish to reveal of themselves.
Towards the end of this series, the photographs feature people who are gradually hidden from my direct observation through the use of diaphragms, mirrors, signage and sheets of glass. I’m not trying to hide my own position as photographer; the moment I take the photograph, the scene passes through a series of lenses, and these — like the sheets of glass — allow me to merely glimpse the subject. I dislike the idea of being the hidden observer grasping signs of life; equally I do not enjoy the sense of being an inflexible eye, staring humankind straight in the face, unable to avoid casting judgement.
Rather, I prefer to believe that in this theater — against the backdrops and in the wings and amongst the actors — my role as a photographer is never that of an author, a chronicler, or a director; my role should be indistinguishable from those I photograph.
Luigi Ghirri, Salzburg, 1977