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Ralph Gibson is one of my favorite photographers. I honestly do not know much about him... and I cannot claim to have seen the majority of his work - I simply like what I have seen of his photos.
My favorite Gibson photo would have to be “Bastienne”, the photo which graces the cover of his 1995 book “Infanta” - a collection of his nudes, primarily focusing on abstract portions of the body. “Bastienne” shows only the right eye (looking down) and top of the cheek of the model - positioned in the upper right corner of the frame... leaving most of the image filled with the deep black background. It’s an extremely simple composition... and, to me - a very beautiful one indeed.
Most of Gibson’s work remains unfamiliar to me. I’ve seen bits here and there in books and on the internet. I’ve gazed at one or two in museums. Yet despite having seen so little of his work - I consider him to be one of my favorite photographers... simply based on the fact that what I have seen of his work has amazed me. Simple compositions... abstract... high contrast - sometimes showing lots of grain. Simple. Beautiful.
So imagine my amazement when - at an agricultural fair here in my own Connecticut - I wandered in to a used books tent, raising money for the agricultural society which hosts the fair - to find, sitting prominently atop a pile of books in a section marked “Coffee Table Books” at the tent’s entrance - a copy of Gibson’s “L’Histoire De France”! The price? A mere $2.00! (Yes... an out-of-print art book with a cover price of $49.95 - for a mere $2.00!)
Fearing that someone else might notice this treasure and make a run for it, I grabbed the book as quickly as I could... as my mouth hung open.
Of course... the possibility is high that I was the only person in the entire fair that gave a damn about that book! Most of the books being sold were romance novels... war histories... cookbooks... gardening books... and children’s books. Most of the customers were either fair attendees tossing books around with BBQ-sauce-sticky fingers - or were fair participants, with manure-coated shoes. It might sound as if I’m stereotyping a bit (perhaps I am) - but for some reason I just don’t think that the Gibson book would have been their cup of tea!
Still... I snatched the book and clung to it!
(And I’ve been devouring it ever since!)
This book is special because it was the first he published of color photographs (usually he focuses on black & white exclusively). There’s a certain ‘softness’ to his images... and his “reductivist” style continues to amaze me. Gibson shoots using Leica M cameras exclusively... and almost always using a fixed 50mm lens (a lens which many photographers today seem to have either ‘forgotten’ or have chosen to abandon).
On his web site, Gibson says that his images reveal “how it feels for me to be looking at something”... and continues to say “I may shoot something as humble as the corner of a box, but it’s really about photography, the process of seeing, and conveying my personal feelings. How you feel determines how you perceive reality - therefore the only thing that’s real is how you feel. That may sound solipsistic, but I succeed as an artist only when I communicate my individual consciousness.”
A philosophy I completely agree with...
No wonder I like his images so much!
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