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Marc Riboud: The Eye of the Traveler

January 11, 2013 by Phil Tarley in Art with 1 Comment

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.

Beijing, China, 1965 © Marc Riboud

Beijing, China, 1965 © Marc Riboud

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.

Painter of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1953 © Marc Riboud

Painter of the Eiffel Tower, Paris, France, 1953 © Marc Riboud

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.

Young girl with flower in a demonstration against the war in Vietnam, Washington, USA, 1967 © Marc Riboud

Young girl with flower in a demonstration against the war in Vietnam, Washington, USA, 1967 © Marc Riboud

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.

Moscow, Russia, 1960 © Marc Riboud

Moscow, Russia, 1960 © Marc Riboud

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.

Gange, India, 1956 © Marc Riboud

Gange, India, 1956 © Marc Riboud

Phil Tarley

About Phil Tarley

Phil Tarley is a fellow of the American Film Institute, an artist member of the Los Angeles Art Association and writes about contemporary art, pop culture and photography for Fabrik Magazine. He curates at the A C Gallery in Los Angeles and founded Round Hole Square Peg, a biannual, international survey of LGBTQ photography shown at the Photo LA. Tarley is also a critical essayist for Katharine T. Carter & Associates, an art advisory service that  helps artists obtain museum exhibitions. His personal series of political and ethnographic videos is housed in the permanent collection of the New York Public Library and has screened in film festivals and museums like the American Film Institute,and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. In 2009, under his nom de porn, Phil St. John, Tarley was inducted into the Gay Porn Hall of Fame for his 20-year producing and directing career. His writing and photography have also appeared in the LA Times, the LA Weekly, The WOW Report, Adventure Journal, the Advocate, Frontiers, Adult Video News, Genre, Instinct and American Photo Magazine. His book, Going down On Cuba: Notes from An Underground Traveler,  is slated to be published later in the year by Fabrik Press.  

View all posts by Phil Tarley →

One Comment

  1. Judith KalmusFebruary 8, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Love Fabrik! Wonderful critical reviews.

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