In 1923, Marc Riboud was born in Lyon. At the 1937 Great Exhibition of Paris, he took his first pictures with the small Vest-Pocket camera his father gave him. So began a life rich in black and white imagery. The Eye of the Traveler at the Peter Fetterman Gallery in Bergamot Station is an encyclopedic show of Riboud’s peripatetic works, of images recalling a life well shot. Riboud pioneered a photographic exploration that spanned much of Asia and the Indian subcontinent.
After fighting in the French resistance at war’s end, the photographer moved to Paris where he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capra and Ernst Hass. These founders of Magnum Photos sported among its members the dominant documentary lensmen of the age and by 1953, Riboud was a member. His ability to capture life’s fleeting moments — moments that were powerfully yet elegantly composed — was a skill that kept him employed and published through more than three decades of ground breaking travel around the world.
One of the show’s standout prints, Chinese 30, is an homage to the Riboud’s mentor, Henri Cartier-Bresson. Here, a shop window is used to frame and fragment little pastiches of Chinese street life. Riboud’s brackets function as visual quotation marks, bringing the inhabitants he has photographed into sharp relief so that we can better parse and ponder their mystique, their habitat and their humor.
Moscow 1960, a silvery snowscape, has a soft, impressionist feeling that transports the viewer — in a way that only the best photographs can – to a sweet zone of timelessness. The eighteenth century architecture and the lazy tracks of streetcars delight the eye and catch one up in a white cocoon of snowy sense-memories.
Another timeless evocation of place, India Ganges is a wonderful horizontal image, squeezed thin like the screen at a Cinemascope movie. In the distance, elephants are washed in the Ganges’ mists and a languid long boat drifts by in the foreground. A boy steadies himself on pointed toe silhouetted against the shimmering river.
On pointed toe is a form of human expression Riboud captured again in his delightful portrait of a man painting the Eiffel tower high above a Parisian cityscape. Riboud’s traveling eye also made it to the USA. Two of those indelible images are included in Fetterman’s show; an eerily beautiful portrait of a Los Angles freeway and a flower child confronting a phalanx of soldiers at a Vietnam protest, a Washington D.C. nadir.
Last November, Marc Riboud received the 2012 Nadar Prize awarded by the National Library of France for the best photographic book Towards the Orient, published by Xavier Barral. A five volume boxed set spectacularly printed and available for purchase from the gallery, Towards The Orient covers Riboud’s travels during the 1950s. It holds some of the most beautiful black and white photographs ever taken.
Riboud’s visual narrative (the volumes also contain his written notes) chronicles his long, slow, purposeful journey. With a desire to discover ancient civilizations, he first stopped in Istanbul before continuing his expedition through the striking Anatolian landscapes. He crossed Persia to reach Afghanistan and its tribal zones. In 1956, he arrived in India, which he explored for nearly a year. It’s from there that Riboud became one of the first western photographers to enter Communist China. He ended his “grand tour” in Japan in 1958, which he found war-torn and under major reconstruction following its devastation and occupation by U.S. forces. Gallerist Peter Fetterman has plucked some of the most numinous images from the book for this most luminous show.
Marc Riboud – The Eye of the Traveler runs until March 16, 2013.