A passage from Claude Roy's introduction (translated) to Marc Riboud: Photographs at Home and Abroad, first published in France in 1986:
"When you are a teenager so taciturn that your older brothers say things like 'You don't use your mouth, so maybe you'll use your eyes,' when you are retiring, fitful, vulnerable, anxious, then being able to take refuge behind the eyepiece of a camera, behind a mask that enables you to see without being seen, is a great comfort. When you are a young man at odds with yourself and later admit that you were torn between 'the fear of getting too close to people and another force that egged me on to get a closer look,' then being the man with the invisible face who makes other faces visible is rather a neat solution. When you are the fifth child in a large middle-class family involved in business, banking, and stocks, when you've been schooled in engineering, groomed for the workaday world, and destined for a job at the plant, then your father's Vest Pocket Kodak, or the Leica he's given you, become instruments to guide you towards wide open spaces, and photography gives you a license to roam."
Roam he did. More than thirty books have been published of his work, including many pictures from Asia and the Indian subcontinent. What I remember most about him is something another Magnum photographer told me about him: that, despite being a photojournalist, he declined on principle to photograph mayhem...no violence, carnage, blood, war, or suffering. "I have always been more sensitive to the beauty of the world than to violence and monsters," he said.
He took many pictures you have no doubt seen, of the Watergate hearings, the Great Wall of China, an improbable painter poised on a girder of the Eiffel Tower looking like a cross between Buster Keaton and a mime, or two black boys, blurred, shadowboxing on a beach in the gloaming.
His signature image distills the "flower power" of the 1960s: a young woman holding a flower in front of a line of National Guard soldiers with bayonets at the ready. Like many big hits I tired of that one long ago; in the Riboud picture that first comes to my mind when I think of him, we are looking down from above at a broad marsh, with a strip of sky at the top and a patch of dry land at the bottom, where a distant man in a white shirt is lying on the ground with his hands behind his head, as if to say, ah! This is the life.
Although his style and his concerns have moved back in time significantly since I first engaged with him, his work remains well worth getting to know if you don't know it already, with its gentle arm's-length humanism. He died last Tuesday, at 93. There are many obituaries, including those at the New York Times; at Magnum where he was a member until 1979 and still revered; at TIME magazine; at PDN, and at The Guardian, among others. He is survived by his wife and four children.
(Thanks to numerous readers)
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Joe Holmes: "Digging around, I stumbled across a couple of outtakes from the more famous shots of the flower power protester and the Eiffel Tower painter. Unfortunately, they're pretty small images, though here's a giant reproduction of that flower power outtake. And finally, this is actually my favorite Riboud image. Talk about framing!"