Celebrated Photojournalist Marc Riboud Dies at 93, Leaving a Powerful Legacy
Photo: London, 1954. © Marc Riboud
World-renowned photojournalist Marc Riboud died yesterday in Paris at the age of 93. A member of the illustrious Magnum Photos since 1953, Riboud’s six decade career in photography took him to all corners of the earth, where he found beauty in a grace as powerful as life itself.
Born in Lyon, France, in 1923 Riboud took his first photographs at the Exposition Universelle in Paris using a Kodak camera given to him by his father on his fourteenth birthday. His father died of a heart attack in 1940, shortly after the Germans occupied France. His older brother joined the Resistance, was captured, and survived Buchenwald. At the age of 20, Riboud joined the Resistance himself.
After the war he worked as an engineer in Lyon until fate crossed his path once again. In 1951, he took a week-long vacation to take photographs, decided to forgo his day job, and dedicate himself to the craft. He moved to Paris where he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa, and David Seymour, and soon thereafter became a member of Magnum.
One of the first European photographers to go to China, Riboud made numerous trips to Asia, most notably to North Vietnam during the height of war. But it was his ability to see all sides of the story that distinguished Riboud. Flower Girl, his most famous photograph, shows a17-year-old girl standing in front of armed troops outside the Pentagon, their bayonets raised and at the ready. In response, she holds simply hold a flower as an offering a peace, love, and solace.
This image appears on the cover of Marc Riboud (Thames & Hudson), a charming pocket volume of the photographer’s greatest works. Featuring 63 duotone photographs, the book is a testament to the power of art to transform the way we see the world. In the book’s introduction, titled “The Pleasures of Seeing,” riboud writes, “for a long time I used to remain silent; completely absorbed in my own world, I daydreamed constantly. At home it was always my elder brothers and sisters who dominated the conversation while I simply listened, and looked.”
Riboud goes on to describe the painful shyness of his childhood, the way it held him back from life itself, and how this impacted his earliest experiences of photography. At the age of eight, a couple on a motorbike stopped and asked him to take their photograph.
Riboud remembers, “Not daring to look at them, I pressed the shutter, released hurriedly, handed back the camera, and without a word, sped off again on my bike. Of course I never saw that ‘first photo,’ but I remember the scene quite clearly. It’s linked in my memory with the sense of surprise I felt at what I had done. I had photographed something which I vaguely sensed ‘wasn’t quite right.’ I still often feel this double tension: the fear of destroying an intimacy by approaching it and at the same time the strong desire to photograph as closely as possible what my eye dares not see. Looking is the signal or the trigger for an exchange. In photography no such courteous exchange occurs: photography is simply a question of taking without giving anything in return…”
This may be true if one does not do anything with the work, or if one uses it as the means to an ends rather than the ends itself. But for Riboud, whose love for humanity is evident in his work, whose willingness to go to far-flung corners much to dangerous for casual tourism, the photograph is a gift. It is his way of sharing with the world a deeper truth that can only be understood through the act of bearing witness.
Riboud writes, “I am neither a philosopher nor a sociologist; I look at the surface of things. According to the Greeks, a man’s soul wanders around the surface of his skin, rather than being embedded deep within him, as the Christian religion would have us believe.”
It is this soul that Riboud observes, with his eyes, with his camera, and with his heart. For this it is we who benefit from all that Marc Riboud has given in the simple yet powerful act of taking a photograph.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.