Marc Riboud, Photojournalist Who Found Grace in the Turbulent, Dies at 93


“My vision of the world is simple,” Mr. Riboud said when he was in his 80s. “Tomorrow, each new day, I want to see the city, take new photographs, meet people and wander alone.”


Marc Riboud, the celebrated French photojournalist who captured moments of grace even in the most fraught situations around the world, died in Paris on Tuesday. He was 93.

The cause was Alzheimer’s disease, his wife, Catherine Chaine, said.

Mr. Riboud’s career of more than 60 years carried him routinely to turbulent places throughout Asia and Africa in the 1950s and ’60s, but he may be best remembered for two photographs taken in the developed world.

The first, from 1953, is of a workman poised like an angel in overalls between a lattice of girders while painting the Eiffel Tower — one hand raising a paintbrush, one leg bent in a seemingly Chaplinesque attitude.

The second, from 1967, is of a young woman presenting a flower to a phalanx of bayonet-wielding members of the National Guard during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at the Pentagon.

Both images were published in Life magazine during what is often called the golden age of photojournalism, an era Mr. Riboud (pronounced REE-boo) exemplified.

A protégé of Henri Cartier-Bresson, he was on the front lines of world events, including wars. Even so, Mr. Riboud did not consider himself a record keeper. “I have shot very rarely news,” he once said.

Rather than portray the military parades or political leaders of the Soviet Union, for example, he was drawn to anonymous citizens sitting in the snow, holding miniature chess boards and absorbed in their books.

Of the many hundreds of shots he published from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Pakistan, Tibet and Turkey, only a handful are of figures written about by historians.

Born on June 24, 1923, in St.-Genis-Laval, near Lyon, he was the fifth and, by his account, the most shy of seven children from a bourgeois family that expected him to take up a respectable vocation. It was his father, an enthusiastic traveler and amateur photographer, who led him astray by giving him a vest-pocket Kodak when Marc was a teenager.

His first photographs were of the Paris Exposition in 1937. After World War II, in which he fought around Vercors as a member of the Resistance, Mr. Riboud studied mechanical engineering at the École Centrale in Lyon. He took a factory job in the nearby town of Villeurbanne after graduating in 1948.

Not until he found himself taking pictures of a cultural festival in Lyon during a weeklong vacation in 1951 did he at last decide to commit to the unstable life of a freelance photojournalist. He moved to Paris in 1952.

There he met Cartier-Bresson, who became his mentor. Already a celebrity in his field, this “salutary tyrant,” as Mr. Riboud called him, dictated “which books to read, what political ideas I should have, which museums and galleries to visit.”

“He taught me about life and about the art of photography,” Mr. Riboud said.

Among the lessons imparted was that “good photography” is dependent on “good geometry.” The Eiffel Tower photograph from 1953, the first that Mr. Riboud published, proves how well the pupil absorbed the lesson. In a radio interview more than 50 years later, he still recalled the English-language caption given to the image by the Life copy writers: “Blithe-ful on the Eiffel.”

In 1953, Cartier-Bresson nominated his protégé to join Magnum, the photo collective he had helped found. Until 1979, when he left to go out on his own, Mr. Riboud traveled and photographed for the agency constantly.


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