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July 7th - September 13th

Robert Delpire

Robert Delpire


Two years ago (or maybe a little more) my friends Hébel and Monterosso asked me if they could put on a retrospective of what we’d been up to for the last 127 years (or maybe a little less). Tributes and medals aren’t really my thing, so I said no. Really no. During the few years I’ve got, I said, left, I prefer to fiddle around with the incurable, like the philosopher Cioran. And it’s dangerous to advance looking back over your shoulder. They went along with this argument (without believing it).

I thought the matter was closed, but as the months went by people started bringing it up again. A sort of competition: who could get me to accept? Some of them even said it would be nice to be on in Arles and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie at the same time.

Unconvinced, I looked for some justification for doing it. Then one day, feeling like Voltaire that the surest thing is to be sure of nothing, I recalled that I had often said and written that a publisher is not an artist but a ‘gobetween’, a mediator between writers, painters and photographers and the craftsmen who put their work into usable form. For me each link in the long chain from manuscript or negative to book has its own importance. And I realised that this retrospective might be a chance to thank the artists and all the other participants in the fascinating adventure of publishing. I wanted to extol the talents of my artist friends and salute the craftsmen friends who ensure their continued existence.

So I got back to François and Jean-Luc and suggested a title for the exhibition. ‘Mille Mercis’ (‘Thank You So Much’) was accepted with relief and regarded as definitive. Until, digging around in an old file, I came upon two words set in type by Herb Lubalin which offered a simple, all-embracing title: Delpire & Cie (‘Delpire & Co.’) says clearly that I’m not the only one involved, that there are also the assistants, graphic designers, typographers, production and electronics specialists, photoengravers, printers, binders and publicity people.

‘And the ship sails on’, Fellini says, and all these people who are part of my world will be rowing with me to make this exhibition what I hope it will be: a great big THANK YOU.

And rather than the hefty catalogue that usually comes with this kind of event, I’ve opted for three little books in a format whose virtues I’ve never ceased to appreciate since, thanks to Minister of Culture Jack Lang, we at the Centre National de la Photographie created the Photo Poche series.

Enjoy the show!

Robert Delpire

Co-produced by the Rencontres d’Arles, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Idéodis, this exhibition devoted to the work of Robert Delpire will retrace the many facets of his career as publisher, artistic director, exhibition curator and film producer. It will also pay tribute to his contribution to the promotion and recognition of photography over the preceding decades. The exhibition will include some 500 photographs (exhibition prints, enlargements, reproductions, etc.), 150 original documentary items (books, magazines, catalogues, etc.) and many vintage pictures. It will be presented at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris from October 28th 2009 to January 24th 2010.

The exhibition was devised by Robert Delpire and produced in association with Mike Derez and Alexandra Delabie, for the exhibition design and production follow-up. The Idéodis creative team: Caroline Milic, Elsa Belaieff, Georges-Emmanuel Arnaud. Pictorial Service and François George for Circad prints, Patrick Bouteloup for the framing. Project coordination: Agnès Gagnès for Idéodis.

To mark the occasion the film Le Montreur d’Images: Robert Delpire was made by Sarah Moon with editing collaboration by Julie Martinovic and the generous assistance of Erik Orsenna.

With the backing of the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès, PICTO and Circad.

Robert Delpire

Born in 1928 in France.

Lives and works in France.

Intending to go into medicine but irrevocably drawn to the arts, at the age of 23 Robert Delpire founded Neuf, an arts magazine for doctors, including such authors as Breton, Prévert, Miller, Picasso, Michaux and Sartre. In the early 1950s he became the publisher of future photography legends such as Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï, Doisneau, Lartigue and Bischof. In 1958 he published Robert Frank’s legendary work The Americans.

Robert Delpire has won the Arts Graphiques gold medal and the Nadar prize several times. He created the graphic image for the magazine L’Oeil in 1955 and was its art director for eight years.

In the early 1960s he opened a gallery where he exhibited Smith, Koudelka, Kühn, Sander, Michals and Bourdin. The advertising agency he started as a part of the Advico group dealt with many international accounts. As creative director he was twice awarded the Grand Prix de la Publicité.

The films he has produced include Corps Profond directed by Lalou and Barrère, William Klein’s Muhammad Ali: The Greatest and Who Are You, Polly Magoo?, winner of the Jean Vigo prize in 1967. He has also directed many advertising films and a 30-minute TV film on the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.

In July 1982 in conjunction with Minister of Culture Jack Lang, he founded the National Photography Centre (CNP). Here he began publishing Photo Poche, the first paperback photography series. He also directed television programmes including Une Minute pour une image and Contacts, and produced films. Over 150 of his theme exhibitions, among them Identités, Botanica and Vanités, and monographic shows on Irving Penn, Robert Frank, William Klein and others, have toured the world.

In 1996 he decided to leave the CNP and signed a co-production contract with the publishing house Nathan, which took over Photo Poche, now the world’s top-selling photography series (a collaboration sealed by an extensive programme of publications, Maestro, Essentiellement and Naturalia). He continued to head it until its most recent publisher, Actes Sud, took over in 2004. As art director for the Fait & Cause gallery, which specialises in social issues, he organised and designed exhibitions for leading museums (São Paulo, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, the Helsinki Museum and the Luxembourg in Paris, where Earth from the Air was an unprecedented success in the history of photography). The most recent exhibition was an exhaustive retrospective of Henri Cartier-Bresson at the French National Library in 2003, which subsequently toured the world.

Robert Delpire is a Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.