Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1997/01/18

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Subject: Marc Riboud
From: Donal Philby <>
Date: Sat, 18 Jan 1997 16:11:31 -0800


Had a chance to quickly see a gallery exhibition and then later hear a 
lecture by Marc Riboud in Los Angeles last Wednesday.  I had spent the 
day shooting chrome-plated boat propellers (a lighting nightmare if 
there ever was one) for a magazine story and it sure made me reflect on 
just how one can spend ones life. His early pictures were influential in 
my going to photojournalism school.   

Anyway, I thought that since Marc has used both Ms and Rs all his 
working life and is certainly one of the greats of documentary 
photography, I would pass along some snippets of the lecture.  I hope 
you will forgive the disjointed nature, but I was taking notes by hand.

Marc has longest white hair, a slightly stooped posture, a face with 
many lines of experience and eyes that shine with life.

He spoke at the LA Country Museum of Art and brought no slides.  "It is 
important to separate images from words," he said in his soft French 

The most important quality it takes to be a good photographer, he said, 
was passion.  "People without passion are sad to see."

Use of a camera is very simple, he said.  "One week of training, that's 
all.  But to look and see--that takes training.  I don't really believe 
in talent.  A predilection, perhaps, can help."

"The visual language and structure must be learned.  There is what we 
like, yes, but further, there is visual grammar and syntax that is 
learned by study of architecture, painting, sculpture and literature 
(for is not most great writing visual discriptions?).

Despite living in a TV age, "more and more we see people not visually 
literate, but full of preconceived ideas."  The preconceptions limit 
vision, he said, like the tourists that only see what they understand, 
what is the same as back home.  "Instead, we need to train ourselves by 
constant observation--even without a camera."

His new book on China is composed of 140 pix @ 1/100th sec each.  And 
there are a total of 150 recognizable people in the book. So 1.4 seconds 
and an immeasureably small percentage of four billion people.  "Is this 
China?, he asked.  "The problem is the choice.  It may take 40 years to 
learn to recognize the right 1/100 of a second", he said. "Looking at 
contacts from 40 years ago, I look now with different eyes and pick 
different pictures."

"Too often as photographers we are not out to show the truth of the 
country, but out to show how good a photographer we are."

"The most important things needed to take good photographs are good 
shoes and good legs," Riboud said.

On automatic cameras: " They are stupid.  We know they are designed to 
selected the average and everyone knows that average is also mediocre."

"Sun is the enemy of photography.  But mist, or rain, or twilight, 

His way of shooting is to wander open minded.  Often, when he is with 
people they ask, "did you get what you wanted?  Well, I didn't know what 
I wanted."

He closed with a question:

If your studio catches fire and all your gear and pictures are at risk, 
what do you grab?

Answer:  "The Fire!"

For it is passion that leads to the best photographs.

Hope you found a little inspiration.

Donal Philby
San Diego