Il profilo delle nuvole - the profile of clouds - presents 100 of the 100,000 colour photographs that Luigi Ghirri took before his death in 1992. His subject is the Northern Italy in which he spent most of his life, primarily the region around the River Po.
Ghirri doesn't follow tourist itineraries or seek out major monuments. True, there is an image of a part-frescoed room in the Palazzo Te, Mantua, and elsewhere the Villa Poiana appears - but that is one of Palladio's more modest buildings. In Bologna we don't even glimpse the tall brick towers and renowned arcades; instead, Ghirri shows us smudges of paint on the wall of Morandi's studio and the motorway at the city's edge.
'I believe that taking photographs has taught me along the years not to dismiss anything as insignificant,' he once remarked. Among the unexceptional, unspectacular sights in this exhibition are garages, power stations, provincial piazzas, small plain churches, shrines, shops, farms and flat fields whose furrows stretch far into the distance. Ghirri often includes existing images within his own - the fresco behind a confessional in a church, the painting hanging over a hotel bed - and enjoys the spatial illusions they can create. He likes too the textures of things that have aged, such as flaking plaster and patch-repaired brickwork. In one photograph a single rose blooms on tangled briars against a fading blue wall.
Quoted in the catalogue, Ghirri refers appreciatively to the paintings of Brueghel and Edward Hopper, the photographs of Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander - above all, the songs of Bob Dylan. Otherwise you have to infer the influences on his way of seeing. Many of Ghirri's images are frontal and balanced around a central receding axis. There is the sense of someone who grew up absorbing the order and symmetry of Classical facades and then used the Classical to expose and accentuate all that subverts it - the little irregularities, asymmetries and contingencies that make the difference between life and design.
Often Ghirri can coax poetic content out of mundane subject matter. Some of his depopulated townscapes have a tranced De Chirico quality. Skies may contain 'the profile of clouds' but elsewhere are monochrome and, in this flat landscape, vast. The russet render of a crossroads trattoria glows in the sun against a sombre sheet of grey. Dusk and night bring their own particular illumination, which Ghirri adores. Mist, frost and snow are co-opted to atmospheric effect. At Brescello, a grove of birches framed by a skeletal wooden porch looks entirely Japanese.
In a contrasting photographic account, Italy: Cross Sections of a Country (aj 2.7.98), Gabriele Basilico presents a Northern Italy where distinctions between urban and rural are all but erased by proliferating development at its most banal. His book is a bleak expose of a contemporary malaise. Ghirri's images are much less brutal. In this Edinburgh exhibition, everyday scenes acquire an aura. Detained among them, we look with affection and curiosity at the built and cultivated world.
Future venues for the exhibition will be announced on the AJ diary page