DEATH OF ROBERT DELPIRE1926 - 2017
A tribute by Christian Caujolle
People say he had an amazing eye, which is undeniable, but first and foremost, he had an incredible character, and the two were profoundly connected. A character composed of rigor, of fidelity to what mattered and seemed to go without saying, and of curiosity, a curiosity that did not accept pretense but enabled him to evolve, not to cling to points of view.
I remember both the tense moments – like when, as the first director of the National Photography Center, which was the brainchild of Jack Lang, he had created the “Under Thirty” prize, we had strong words at the Palais de Tokyo Museum in Paris when it came time to hang the work of some of the young prize-winners I worked with and whose work he didn’t care for at all – and the more exhilarating ones, like when the day after I had introduced him to Michael Ackerman, he made the snap decision to publish "End, Time, City".
I didn’t know him yet, but I was studying photography by browsing the second-hand bookstores on the banks of the Seine and at the flea market in Clignancourt. It was in an old issue of the journal Neuf that I stumbled across Brassaï ; in the small-scale prints – even then – of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Dances in Bali and Robert Doisneau’s Parisians as They Really Are that I began to think about what the coffee-table-book format really meant ; in flipping through Brassaï in Seville, HCB in Moscow or China, René Burri in Germany, Inge Morath in Iran and so many others that I learned what a photographic narrative is and how a point of view can create a narration.
Naturally, in this sad moment, I’m thinking about his affinities, including the one we shared for years over the role of text in photography books. Those thoughts bring back memories of books by Sarah Moon, including her 5-volume, boxed lover’s bible (12345) and Vrais Semblants, which hit the mark so precisely ; of Josef Koudelka and his landmark volumes, Gypsies and Exiles, which inspired so much debate, tension and passion.
I remember his bond to William Klein and Robert Frank, despite the ups and down and the distance ; the generosity that meant that his insistence on quality always won out over managerial concerns. I remember, oh yes, I remember the major, ground-breaking shows at the Palais de Tokyo that I, as a journalist for Libération back then, attended knowing I was sure to come across both fabulous discoveries and demanding standards. Much later, I found about his close ties to illustrators, the depth of his friendships with André François and André Martin, the advertising sagas, Citroën and the years of graphic grandeur.
Bob, who spent the last two years of his life completing his magnificent dried-plant collections, has left us – nay, has left the world – “Photo Poche” the world’s bestselling paperback photography collection, his ideal of a library of photography.
It was his masterpiece, with its stand-out volumes.
But today, to say farewell, I am thinking of a different book, a small, oblong, tender and poetic volume published in 1956 and signed André François, a small gem called Crocodile Tears (Les Larmes du crocodile).
© Sarah Moon
Robert Delpire was born in Paris in 1926, and died there on September 26, 2017. At age 23, he founded Neuf, an art journal intended for doctors, whose pages welcomed Breton, Prévert, Miller, Michaux and Sartre. In the early 1950s he began publishing major names in photography : Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Doisneau and Lartigue, and in 1958, he published the world’s first edition of Robert Frank’s The Americans.
Robert Delpire won the Nadar Prize several times, and in 1955, he created the layout for the journal L’œil, which he was the artistic director of for eight years.
In 1963 he opened a gallery where he showed – often for the first time in Europe – the greatest names in photography, illustration and graphic design (André François, Savignac, Le Foll, Lubalin, Milton Glaser, Blechman and more).
He founded an advertising agency, which handled many large international clients for Advico Corp.
As Creative Director, he was awarded to Advertising Grand Prizes : in 1968 for the BNP campaign, and in 1975 for Citroën.
He produced films (Corps profonds by Lalou and Barrere, a classic short ; William Klein’s Cassius the Great and Who Are You, Polly Maggoo ? 1967 Jean Vigot Prize) as well as a great number of advertisements.
He also directed Flagrants Délits, a 30-minute film about the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
In July, 1982, Jack Lang, Minister of Culture, appointed him to be the first director of the National Photography Centre.
He founded and published “Photo Poche”, the world’s first paperback photography collection. He produced television programs (Une minute pour une image, Contacts). He organized 150 photography shows – both thematic (Identities, Botanica, Vanities and more) and monographic (Irving Penn, Robert Frank, William Klein etc.) that have been seen around the world.
The “Photo Poche” collection, which he continued to edit after it was bought by Actes Sud publishing, is the world’s best-selling photography collection.
Above and beyond sensibilities, outlooks and trends, open to all styles and genres, Robert Delpire always wanted each and every book he published to be an opening : onto the world around us, as well as the one within.
C’est de voir qu’il s’agit (Seeing Is What It’s All About), a book that gathers together many of his texts and the key photographic work he edited, was recently published by Delpire Éditeur (June 2017).
The Folia Gallery in Paris has programmed a show that portrays the importance of his editorial work.
In 2012, Delpire Éditeur joined the photography branch of the Libella Publishing Group, alongside literary publishers Buchet Chastel, Phébus ou Les Éditions Noir sur Blanc.
Visual for news : © Sarah Moon, Robert Delpire