… Amongst the tangled threads of the always-identical, photography can transform the kingdom of indifferent repetition into little certainties …
This is from the essay ‘The Restless Gaze: An Anthology of Sentiments ‘ 1988 found in The Complete Essays 1973-1991 by Luigi Ghirri (2016):
… The journey towards an elsewhere on the surface of the world, along with the daunting research into depth, complicates our perception, which becomes ever more like the experience of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt, who is overwhelmed by an astonishing accumulation of knowledge, attention, stimuli, sentiments, memories, amnesias, novelties, information, recollections, and echoes. As Pessoa writes [I believe this is from The Book of Disquiet]:
I’m riding a tram and, as is my habit, slowly absorbing every detail of the people around me. By ‘detail’ I mean things, voices, words. In the dress of the girl directly in front of me, for example, I see the material it’s made of, the work involved in making it — since it’s a dress and not just material — and I see in the delicate embroidery around the neck, the silk thread with which it was embroidered and all the work that went into that.
[line break added] And immediately, as if in a primer on political economy, I see before me the factories and all the different jobs: the factory where the material was made; the factory that made the darker colored thread that adorns with curlicues the neck of the dress; and I see the different workshops in the factories, the machines, the workmen, the seamstresses. My eyes’ inward gaze even penetrates into the offices, where I see the managers trying to keep calm and I follow the figures set out in the account books, but that’s not all: beyond that I see into the domestic lives of those who spend their working hours in these factories and offices …
A whole world unfolds before my eyes, all because of the regularly irregular dark green edging to a pale green dress worn by the girl in front of me, whose brown neck is all that is visible to me. A whole way of life lies in front of my eyes.
I sense the loves, the secrets, the souls of all those who worked just so that this woman in front of me on the tram should wear around her mortal neck the sinuous banality of a thread of dark green silk on a background of light green cloth.
I grow dizzy. The seats on the tram, of fine, strong cane, carry me to distant regions, divide into industries, workmen, houses, lives, realities, everything.
[ … ]
… ‘We are like a steamship that crosses the path of another steamship,’ writes Pessoa, ‘and there’s an unknown nostalgia for the passage.’ It is with this lens of nostalgia that we look at the metropolis, which appears to spread over all surfaces, seeping into the gaps, penetrating all territories, as if it were a subtle and covert exercise in colonization.
[line break added] Encountering no obstacles, it moves into squalid places of sensorial deprivation, such as car parks, supermarkets, crossroads, asphalt and lampposts, football pitches and motorcycle tracks, scrapyards and dumps — all of which seem to be the outposts of the city, the strategic boundary line that pushes the landscape a little further back.
[line break added] A line along which space is turned into wasteland and leftovers in a series of uncertain changes, and where the gaze also takes on an ethical dimension — a possible means of investigating a landscape which appears to have relinquished all recognizability, all possible interpretation, thanks to a subtle and malicious magical realism.
Amongst the tangled threads of the always-identical, photography can transform the kingdom of indifferent repetition into little certainties — through fragments and intuitions, little changes of light, the highlighting of a color, the detail of a façade, the lines of a face, an unexpected space.
Luigi Ghirri, San Martino Valle Caudina, 1990