“Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.” – Marc Riboud
I am a little daunted writing this piece. I first came upon the work of Riboud at a small exhibition in Shanghai. The exhibition left me speechless, in particular, the photo below which was the headline of the show. Riboud did not subscribe to the model of ‘Street Photographer’ and his Times obituary described him as a humanist. Studying his photographs, you can see strong connections with his subjects, whom he often revisited after their photographs were published. Riboud also had the Magnum ‘magic’, enabling him to blend in and create powerful candid images. He was a core member of Magnum and died aged 93. His work in China was groundbreaking, and he gained access to many locations previously out of bounds. A photo of a nude at a Chinese art school led to controversy, with the Chinese government claiming no such place existed.
Again, I am at a loss to describe his photos. Black and white if you want to emulate, but during his time in China, black and white was all there was (and at times his film was damaged by cold). His work was political. He saw the destruction caused by Mao in China and witnessed the atrocities of the Vietnam war. His images often reveal didactic tension; such as a woman in a fur coat next to a hungry child. Strong composition is a key element in black and white photography, and Riboud was the master.
Here is where I give you my tips. Unfortunately, I am at a loss. If I start creating images like Riboud, I am likely to be able to give up my day job (which I love). But since you asked:
Study a lot. I can recommend Michael Freeman’s “The Photographers Mind” and “The Photographers Eye,” two of the greatest books ever written for rules on composition.
Be passionate, bordering on obsession.
Be political, stand in front of important stuff!
Riboud advised studying art, particularly artwork from the Renaissance (this is something I need to start doing!).
Marc Riboud is known for his images of China, Africa, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Cuba (he famously photographed Fidel Castro) and many other countries. Mentoring came from Robert Capa, who along with David Seymour, Henri Cartier-Bresson, George Rodger and William Vandivert founded the Magnum Photo agency. He was a shy exentric obsessive who has left us some of the most spellbinding photographs of the 20th Century.
Take care, and keep clicking, Chris
If you enjoyed this read, it is part of a planned 10 part series. Check out my blog to learn about Steve McCurry and Alex Webb, two of the greatest colour photographers of our time.
The Antique Dealers’ Street, Beijing is an amazing shot indeed. Wasn’t familiar with Riboud’s work – thanks for the intro!
You will have seen his most famous shot – google Riboud and painter on the Eiffel Tower. Glad you liked his work, an artist well worth studying.