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Ralph Gibson: Past Imperfect


It is often easier to work with renowned photographers, rather than with young pretentious and arrogant ones. Like Ralph Gibson. I hadn’t worked on a book with him for at least 15 years. Gibson is the photographer who was most influential for me through his books and his famous trilogy that allowed me to understand how on a double page, two pictures face to face can create new sensations, provoke new visual mysteries and inspire the unexpected. I sent him an email: “Caro Ralph; I would love to make a new book with you, about your beginnings in photography, your learning years during the ‘60’s before you had developed your own personal vision. You can do the layout and send me the scans.” I love early works, whether they be in music or literature, but especially in photography because they often contain an overpowering element of craziness, this youthfulness and spontaneity that is so quickly lost. Ralph answered immediately. “OK, I want a 2500 dollar advance, and 200 books sent to New York”. That was the deal, American efficiency, no problems talking about money and the reassurance of working with a true professional who wouldn’t disappoint me. A few days later, the title arrived. “Passé Imparfait” which I thought was perfect, a man reflecting on his past. Then the pictures started coming, of Los Angeles, of San Francisco, taken in the streets like Robert Frank or Cartier-Bresson, with a Rolleiflex then a Leica, on Sunset Boulevard, convertible cars, girls, the Beatles, the hippies. Gibson wanted to be a professional photographer, but his pictures were too personal. He would move to New York. In 1969, his visual signature confirmed itself, a change took place. At the Chelsea Hotel, he would spend his nights reading Borges and listening to Villa-Lobos, his subconscious emerged, dreamlike visions appeared and he began dreaming about his first book, The Somnambulist, creating the layout. That is the story behind this book of pictures printed in Pamplona, the photoengraving delicately cared for by Isabelle Nori: how do forms in an image migrate from one picture to another? A mystery this book solves partially with stunningly modern and sensual black and white pictures that always go straight to the point. Thank Ralph, you are great !

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