New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 23 June 20 to July 3, 2012

Photography’s Champion

A Tribute to Robert Delpire: Robert Frank, Lee Freidlander, Josef Koudelka, Duane Michals and Paolo Roversi
Ireland by Koudelka. Source:
Koudelka, "Ireland" 1976

This exhibition is a heartfelt “thank you” to Robert Delpire who supported and encouraged some of the 20th century’s most iconic names in photography through his projects and publications. Delpire, now 86 years old, is a well-known French publisher, art director, curator and film maker who courageously stood by his artistic convictions over the course of a 60 year career. In 1958 when Robert Frank had difficulty finding an American publisher for his recent photographs taken on two road trips across the United States, Delpire published Les Americains, now recognized as one of the most influential photography books of the 20th century. In 1964 he published William Klein’s Tokyo, then in 1975 Czech photographer Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies, and, in 1988, its successor, Exiles, these just a few of the many photography classics appear under his imprint.

Delpire’s publishing career began when he was a 23-year-old medical student in Paris. He was asked to publish a cultural bulletin for the school’s doctors, and the rest is history. He called the publication Neuf, and focused it on photography, publishing works by Brassai, Doisneau, Cartier-Bresson and Frank, an unknown at that time. Appointed director of the Centre National de la Photographie in 1982, he went on to organize exhibitions and publish the Photo Poche, a classic collection of pocket-sized books that today number more than 150 volumes. The books cover a wide range of photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Walker Evans, Lee Friedlander, Sarah Moon (Delpire’s wife), Duane Michals, and Paolo Roversi.

Of the 29 photographs in the Pace/Macgill exhibition, a number fall into the iconic category, such as Frank’s City Fathers- Hoboken, NJ, Political Rally – Chicago and U.S. 91 – Leaving Blackfoot, Idaho. Frank’s debt to Delpire is perhaps best illustrated by Mabou, the image that greets visitors as they enter the gallery; the caption explains it’s “a photographic letter from Frank to Delpire.” Given the competition here, I thought Koudelka’s work was very strong. In Ireland; the viewer sees four faceless men in overcoats, backs to the camera, standing in a dead end alleyway. It takes a moment to realize what they’re all doing there – it’s a guy thing. In Spain, one man’s face and half his body are masked by a stream of smoke, the ray of light on the smoke adding an ethereal quality to the whole picture.

US 91, Leaving Blackfoot Idaho  by Robert Frank. Source:
Robert Frank, "US 91, Leaving Blackfoot Idaho " 1956

“Who is Sidney Sherman” and “Chance Meeting,” two Duane Michals’ series of six images, use text intriguingly. The first line in the Sherman series says, “Sidney paints his fingernails shocking pink, a brilliantly audacious gesture....” Well, that grabs your attention. His other series, “Chance Meeting,” is both charming and mysterious in the Duane Michals tradition.

Paolo Roversi’s provocative photos of his model Guinevere range from an engaging series of three white-on-white nudes to four variously undressed portraits. Different from everything else in the show, they perhaps demonstrate Delpire’s wide ranging tastes, though they are my least favorite in this exhibition.

Lee Friedlander is represented by a series of eight photos of TV sets in various drab motel/hotel rooms. Most show close-ups of an eye or face, though one shows a nude, and another a motorcycle on the screen. I thought of a former teacher who was apt to say, “I don’t get it, do you get it?” No, I didn’t. It seems to belong in the “mysterious” category along with Duane Michal’s work.

Individual works aside, this exhibition simply underscores Robert Delpire’s impact on photographers and photography. It’s hard to imagine how some of the best-known photographers of our time might have fared without his help.


This exhibition is being presented in collaboration with Delpire & Co. at Aperture Foundation, The Gallery at Hermes, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, La Maison Francaise at NYU, and Sarah Moon at Howard Greenberg Gallery.

A Tribute to Robert Delpire: Robert Frank, Lee Freidlander, Josef Koudelka, Duane Michals and Paolo Roversi

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