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31 August 2016
The story of Marc Riboud's life, which came to a conclusion yesterday after 93 years, belies the turmoil he witnessed as a Magnum photographer.
He was born in St.-Genis-Laval, the fifth of seven children and, according to him, the shiest one. For his 14th birthday, his amateur photographer father gave him a Vest Pocket Kodak camera. He used it to photograph the 1937 Exposition Universelle in Paris and was bitten by the bug.
But like his siblings, he was expected to follow a respectable career, so after World War II, in which he fought in the French Resistance, he studied mechanical engineering. After graduating in 1948, he found a factory job in Lyon.
'I've always been shy and I've always been trying to ignore the people I was photographing so that they ignore me.'
He spent his one-week vacation in 1951 photographing a cultural festival in Lyon. And that did it. He decided to become a freelance journalist, moving to Paris the next year.
And in Paris he met Henri Cartier-Bresson, who took him under his wing, rounding out his education with discussions about books and museum exhibits while directing Riboud's attention to the "good geometry" of good photography.
When Life magazine published Riboud's photograph of a painter on the Eiffel Tower in 1953, Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa invited Riboud to join Magnum. Riboud photographed exclusively for the agency until 1979.
In that time, he drove a Land Rover from Paris to Calcutta where he stayed for a year before photographing inside Communist China and the Soviet Union. He went as far as Japan, where he worked on his first book, Women of Japan. He witnessed independence movements in Africa and was one of the few allowed to photograph in both North and South Vietnam during that conflict. He also documented the anti-Vietnam War protests in the U.S.
In announcing Riboud's death, Magnum President Martin Parr said:
Marc's association with Magnum has been a long and fruitful one. He was a terrific photographer and of particular note was his pioneering work in China, which he first visited in the late 1950s and continued to photograph over the next three decades. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to his family.
During his career, he produced over 30 books, was exhibited worldwide and received numerous awards. But his two most famous works say more about the man.
The first was his first published image of the Eiffel Tower painter. It depicts Zazou perched gracefully on the iron structure, his paint brush reaching out to the iron in front of him.
It wasn't posed. In fact, Riboud was careful not to distract Zazou to avoid an accident. He tried to disappear.
"I've always been shy and I've always been trying to ignore the people I was photographing so that they ignore me," he explained.
The other image is of Jan Rose Kasmir, a 17-year-old girl confronting a valance of armed soldiers at the Pentagon, their bayoneted rifles pointed forward, with a single flower.
"I had the feeling the soldiers were more afraid of her than she was of the bayonets," Riboud said.
The great ambition in the last years of this shy man who had seen so much was simply to load his Canon EOS 300 with film, "to see the city, take new photographs, meet people and wander alone."