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Matinee: Ralph Gibson Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

14 July 2018

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 158th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Ralph Gibson.

It should probably be a book but this nearly 14-minute video features photographer Ralph Gibson talking about his own work, which has involved quite a few books since 1970.

He begins by explaining the difference between an ordinary narrative image like you (used to) see in the newspaper every day and a work of art. The difference, he says, is that the art photograph "remains available to a multitude of interpretations."

And it is the work of art he's after.

He attributes his early sense of tonality to the bright arc lights used in the Hollywood movies his father used to work on. That high contrast of burned out highlights and black shadows eliminated a lot of information from the image, he notes.

And it was that ability to exclude information that intrigued him.

It led to a shift in focus from tonality to composition. He started moving closer to his subject until he realized he was composing both what was in the frame and what was outside the frame. He was cropping life.

He came to dislike wide angle lenses because they include everything in the frame.

He came to dislike wide angle lenses because they include everything in the frame.

As he talks about the influences on and direction of his work, we see his photographs on the screen. It's a rich experience.

You can read more about those influences and that direction in The Surrealist Photos of Ralph Gibson, published earlier this year.

He's a marvelously articulate speaker informed by his effort to acquire a sense of European culture to expand what he describes as his American cowboy upbringing in Hollywood. It isn't an affection, though. It's the result of a life-long education.

But it's really the images that have an impact as he recounts the epic tale of moving from one artistic challenge to another.

Which has somehow led him to compose music for the last 20 years. It has opened up parts of his mind he would otherwise never inhabited, he says.

"Reality is to photography what melody is to music," he wrote in his autobiography. They both provide a means for him to explore about what interests him.

But don't mistake him for the passionate artist following his dream.

Ambivalence, he says, prevents him from repeating himself which, he adds, suggests you know what you are doing. And any artist who knows what he or she is doing, he concludes, is a fraud.


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