Ralph Gibson

Date/place of birth

January 16, 1939, Los Angeles, California, United States

Ralph Gibson - Bastienne's Eye (from the series: Infanta)
Ralph Gibson - Bastienne's Eye (from the series: Infanta)

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Ralph Gibson biography

Ralph Gibson prefers to see the world in black and white and in narrow details. In this way, the celebrated American art photographer brings entirely new facets of reality to light, opening an entrance to dreamy worlds that otherwise remain closed to ordinary people. 

Ralph Gibson – Dorothea Lange’s assistant; friendship with Robert Frank

Ralph Gibson was born in Los Angeles on 16 January 1939. Before he became famous through his work behind the lens, he himself stood in front of the camera – as an extra in films directed by Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. It was military service that first led him to photography: during his time with the marines, he attended the Naval School of Photography in Pensacola, and in 1956 began studying photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. As assistant to the widely appreciated documentary film photographer Dorothea Lange, the young artist garnered many valuable experiences before he himself attracted attention with his first works. In 1966, Ralph Gibson went to New York and worked with his friend, the photographer and film maker Robert Frank, on the film Me and My Brother. Gibson was unable to find a publisher for his pictures and so resorted to self-help by founding the Lustrum Press with fellow photographers in order to publish his photo books. 

The motif determines the picture; the familiar becomes foreign

Early on in his career, Ralph Gibson developed a preference for grainy black and white shots which, unlike his mentor Dorothea Lange, weren’t about the documentation of reality, but exploring surreal metaphysical space. The artist remained faithful to this approach, pursuing it with his characteristic perseverance. A single thought or a certain motif are the starting points for works by Ralph Gibson – the Point of Departure, as the artist calls it. From this one particular motif, artistic compositions develop which are carefully worked out and coordinated down to the last detail. One particularly appreciated and frequently used motif is the female body, which Ralph Gibson captures in his pictures in a variety of ways. The photographer himself admits that he prefers to have his own wife in front of the lens. Simply by the choice of detail and the right moment, Gibson succeeds in extracting an aspect of the special and unique, the unfamiliar and strangely fascination, from the profane.

What the camera sees, and remains closed to the eye

Ralph Gibson distances himself from the time-sensitive photography of his generation in order to be able to show the mysterious spaces and surrealist references that attracted him that were denied to documentary photography. Like many of his colleagues, he was initially sceptical about the emerging digital photography. The offer from the company Leica to name a digital camera model after him induced him to give the new technology a chance and Gibson is now enthusiastic about the possibilities available to him. Nothing, however, has changed in his actual work: creative originality does not spring from technology; in the artist’s opinion, most of the countless digital photographs that now wash over the earth like a flood will not be relevant in the long run. Ralph Gibson has received many prizes and awards for his impressive photographic work, including the Photographic Society of Japan Prize in 1989, the honorary doctorate of the University of Maryland in 1991, and the Lucie Award in 2007. 

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Ralph Gibson Prices

Ralph GibsonBastienne's Eye (from the series: Infanta)€3.276
Ralph GibsonDays at Sea€2.596
Ralph GibsonUntitled (from the series: The Somnambulist)€2.480
Ralph GibsonInfanta€1.815

Ralph Gibson - Current offers and reference objects