Marazzi Rediscovers the Photographic Work of Luigi Ghirri

A new volume dedicated to an almost totally unpublished set of photographs conserved in the Sassuolo company’s archives

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26/05/2021 - Marazzi rediscovers the photographic work of Luigi Ghirri: an almost totally unpublished set of photographs conserved in the Sassuolo company’s archives for decades now forms the subject of a book, a focus exhibition at the Musei Civici in Reggio Emilia, and a special website. A project that reveals to the public amazing story of artistic experimentation, creativity and love of a unique area.
In the photographs created for Marazzi in those years, Ghirri looks at the ceramic tile in a new way. Unlike commercial photographers, he is obviously profoundly interested in his subject, and he interprets it freely: a tile becomes the background for a rose, a surface on which two crayons are placed, or a miniature stage for a piano.
Ceramics,” Luigi Ghirri wrote with regard to this work, “have a history that is lost in the mists of time. They have always constituted an “object” on which other objects are placed: the furniture, gestures, images and shadows of the people who inhabit these spaces. When creating these images, I kept all this in mind and tried, by using surfaces in different colours, and superimposing objects and images, to reconstruct a space which was not the physical and measurable space of an actual room, but rather a representation of mental space in a given moment, of a superimposition that can or is produced in one of the many rooms rediscovered thanks to these surfaces. This work, beyond its other meanings, is a reconstruction of certain rooms in my memory”.
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Luigi Ghirri (1943) was born at Scandiano, in the province of Reggio Emilia, but when he was three his family moved the short distance to the old Collegio San Carlo, a large Neoclassical building modified to provide accommodation for evacuees at Braida, part of Sassuolo. Most of the men and women from the Collegio got on their bicycles every morning to go and work at the nearby ceramics factories. One of these factories was Marazzi, founded in Sassuolo in 1935 by Filippo Marazzi.
It was in this area on the border between the provinces of Modena and Reggio Emilia, to which the photographer always returned and where many of his seminal projects saw the light, that Luigi Ghirri first encountered Marazzi.
Ghirri first visited the company in 1975: his career was taking off rapidly, and his first major one-man exhibition was to be held in Parma in 1979. Marazzi,ceramics industry leader thanks to its patent for the single-firing process, had opened subsidiaries in France and Spain, had its tiles designed by artists and fashion designers, and was shortly to inaugurate an experimental centre, the Crogiòlo, where artists, designers, photographers and architects would be given free rein to try out new ideas.
In this context, the photographer’s poetic sensitivity and the company’s love of experimentation combined in the Marazzi Portfolio, a ground-breaking project in which Ghirri called in photographers John Batho, Cuchi White and Charles Traub to portray Marazzi’s new patents and collections, and where ceramics are interpreted as a mental space and surface, with infinite possibilities of composition, light and colour.
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Transforming matter through form, light and colour to bring it to life: this is what producing ceramics means to Marazzi,” Filippo Marazzi explained, presenting this experimental work by Marazzi and Ghirri. “It should be no surprise that the sharp eye of a great photographer like Luigi Ghirri has identified exactly what this implies, and given it his own, individual reading.”
Since then, the many images Ghirri created for Marazzi have been conserved in the company’s Archive: a corpus of almost completely unpublished photographs, and limited-edition prints, most of them never exhibited or published, except for the small group selected for Foto/Industria 2019, the Fondazione MAST’s photography Biennale. An impressive legacy, which today, thanks to the efforts of Marazzi and the contribution of the Archivio Eredi Luigi Ghirri, forms the centre of a major promotional project, enabling the public to appreciate a unique cultural experiment that significantly adds to our understanding of the works and thought of one of the greatest figures in Italian photography.
The first part of this operation is Luigi Ghirri. The Marazzi Years 1975 – 1985, a fine volume not intended for sale - containing a selection of 30 photographs produced by the artist during his ten-year partnership with the company, with texts by writer Cosimo Bizzarri and photography critic and curator Francesco Zanot.
This selection also provides the initial core of works presented on the special website www.ghirri.marazzi.it, created to make this legacy accessible to all Ghirri fans and the general public. The site will be gradually expanded with background, texts and information about the events to be organised over time.
Last but not least, the photographs will star in an exhibition project on a European scale which has its symbolic beginning at the small focus exhibition on the work chosen as the icon of the entire operation, which will be displayed at the Musei Civici in Reggio Emilia from 21 May to 4 July 2021 as part of the Fotografia Europea show.
Our whole organisation can be rightly proud of its solid, passionate partnership with Luigi Ghirri, an immensely sensitive, individual artist, so responsive to material and its meanings,”, Marazzi CEO Mauro Vandini underlines. “I am delighted that this partnership still survives, and that today it is being brought to the attention of all lovers of photography and creativity. I would like to thank the Archive and Adele Ghirri, in particular, for their invaluable support for the project.”
For decades, the photographs which Ghirri took for Marazzi have been conserved in the company’s archives,” Cosimo Bizzarri explains. “Now, for the first time, they re-emerge together in a single volume and on a website, crowning the success of the partnership between a far-sighted company and an artist who turned his geometrical and inspired, ironic and emotionally charged gaze on a simple, two-dimensional, often ignored object. With wonderful results.”
His association with Marazzi occurred between two milestones in the Emilian photographer’s career - between his phase of total experimentation during the Seventies and the period in the second half of the Eighties culminating in the summit of his representation of locations, “Viaggio in Italia” (1984) – and to a certain extent embodies both a foretaste and a synthesis of these two lines of work and interest.
As Francesco Zanot is keen to underline in the book, “Light years away from the standard concepts of marketing photography, this commission actually provided the photographer with a major opportunity to challenge and continue his exploration of a number of crucial points in our relationship with the world.

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