In 1956, the Los Angeles born Ralph Gibson left high school to join the United States Navy. On his first day, he was randomly selected to attend the Naval School of Photography in Pensacola. He considered that to be his destiny as photography has “chosen” him, not the other way around.
After the Navy, Ralph became an assistant to American photojournalist Dorothea Lange and subsequently an assistant to documentary photographer Robert Frank. But by 27, he knew he wasn’t interested in a career in photojournalism. He wants his photographs to be timeless and not just to represent any subject that is news at the time.
Today Gibson is best known for his photographic books. His first book “The Somnambulist” was printed out of his own pocket in 1970. The title means “sleepwalking” as such the content are presented as one would experience in a dream. Rather than making the image, he achieved this impromptu dream like images by always keeping his trusted Leica rangefinder by his side and waiting for the right images to present themselves. Gibson’s images are extraordinary precisely because they are not “about” anything at all but themselves. They exhibit the purity of being just an image, of whatever is in front of his camera at the time. To date he has produced over 40 monographs, and his photographs are included in over 150 museum collections around the world, and have appeared in hundreds of exhibitions.
When he as a child, Gibson’s father was an assistant director for Hitchcock and he worked on various sets as an extra. He was influenced by Hollywood’s use of cinematography and lighting. It was also his initial exposure to feminine beauty. His love for the beauty of women is what still inspires some of his most mesmerizing and admired photographs.
For him women represent the ultimate nature’s creation, the form that is “absolute and perfect.” As a result, his images often has erotic context with mysterious and surrealist juxtaposition but they are surely not your typical erotic glamour shots. Gibson has the unique ability to turn a familiar scene or subject into something exotic with the magic of lights, shadows and contrasts. His work becomes a “style” and now instantly recognizable.
In the early 1960s, Gibson bought his first Leica M2 with a 50mm f/2 Summicron lens, and immediately realized that rangefinder was destined to be the instrument of choice for him. When Leica approached him in 2013 to endorse its B&W-only digital camera, the M Monochrom, he was hooked. After spending over 50 years in the darkroom, film was losing its appeal for him. He was convinced that digital can also faithfully reflected his vision, and enable him to reinvent himself even when he is at a mature age of seventy five.
Ralph Gibson’s “Nude and Muses” exhibition opens at Leica Gallery Bangkok Gaysorn Plaza on the 8th of May 2018. The show will run until the 25th of June. The exhibition is curated by Piyatat Hematat for Leica Thailand.