Marc Riboud (1923 – 2016) was a French photographer. Riboud was born in Saint-Genis-Laval and went to the lycée in Lyon. He photographed his first picture in 1937, using his father’s Vest Pocket Kodak camera.
In 1943 the 20-year-old Riboud joined the French Resistance, and was part of the Maquis forces in Vercors. After the war he studied engineering at the Ecole Centrale in Lyon, graduating in 1948. Eschewing a comfortable career in industry, Riboud became a freelance photographer in 1952. He went to Paris and met Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, two of the founders of Magnum Photos. They were impressed by his work, and invited him to join the agency. Cartier-Bresson became Riboud’s mentor, and Capa his supporter, arranging for him to have his first picture published in LIFE magazine. Now regarded as one of the definitive Parisian images, it was the picture of the workman painting the Eiffel Tower in 1953. “That painter was joyful, singing as he worked. I think photographers should behave like him – he was free and carried little equipment.” That was Riboud’s approach; traveling freely with a hand-held camera, photographing, as he said, “the rhymes and rhythms in my viewfinder”.
In the mid-50s he set off for India in a specially converted Land Rover. This vehicle he bought from Magnum founder George Rodger, who had used it for his celebrated work in Africa. After spending a year in India, Riboud made the first of his numerous journeys to China, where he worked extensively over the next three decades. Many of his monographs, the first of which was published in 1966, are devoted to China. It was there, in Beijing in 1965, that Riboud took one of his most archetypal photographs. Taken from inside an antique dealer’s shop, the photograph depicts a typical street scene in the Chinese capital as witnessed by a traveler: old and young stand talking amid ornate but rundown architecture. But the scene is only visible through six rounded windows, the striking framing device giving the work an element of bold abstraction (this, remember, only one year before Mao’s Cultural Revolution). This combination of formal composition and informal everyday life is a hallmark of Riboud’s work. “A good photograph is a surprise; my camera has to be ready to catch it”, he has said. Riboud has also quoted the poet Ren’ Char, who suggested that one should “forsee like a strategist and act like a primitive”. The results are very positive, as the artist has noted: “When we succeed, it’s a great joy, a way of putting a visual order into the chaos that’s all around us”.