Ralph Gibson's portrait - Photo credits © Carol Harrison

Ralph Gibson

United States 1939


Ralph Gibson
Ralph Gibson
United States
May 9, 2016

Ralph Gibson is an eminent American photographer whose dark and seductive images have been hypnotizing his wide audience ever since the early 70s, when he published the famous trilogy of photo books, called The Somnambulist, Deja-vu and Days at Sea. Gibson is known for being disturbingly intimate, openly erotic and bizarre at times – but above all able to transform any regular scene or usual corner of the room into a new masterpiece with his trademark, favorite Leica. Gibson has received countless awards for his brilliant work and career that lasts over four decades.

san years
Ralph Gibson – Tinda, 1975

Finding a Departure Point

Ralph Gibson was born in Los Angeles, California in the late 40s and he was a photographer’s mate in the U.S. Navy before he decided to study painting and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. The most influential experience in his younger years happened in the early 60s when he started working as a printing assistant for Dorothea Lange, another preeminent American photographer. Lange gave him the best possible advice – to find his own departure point if he truly wants to make it the world of photography. Besides Lange, Gibson was also assisting another photographer, Robert Frank, who was at the time recording a movie called Me and My Brother. Inspired by his experiences with the famous photographers, he decided to publish his photographs collected and arranged in photo books. His early work was influenced mainly by documentary photography, by Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bruce Davidson and the artist only began to understand the term departure point mentioned by Lange while analyzing his early pieces.In 1969, he moved to New York, where he founded Lustrum Press and began to develop his own style, less influenced by the typical documentary photography.

Dorothea Lange gave Gibson a great piece of advice – to select his own departure point if he truly wants to make it the world of photography

1967 san
Ralph Gibson – Mary Ellen (Hand), 1967

Surreal Erotica Collections

Gibson’s first photobook from the 70s includes erotic and mysterious imagery and puzzling, broken narratives told through surreal compositions and bizarre, disquieting elements. Each of the images from this series is a narrative unto itself, even though they can be seen as a whole because of their coherent style and ominous, overwhelming dark erotica. This series was followed by Deja-vu in 1972 and Days at Sea in 1974. These three series were the most decisive ones in Gibson’s career, his true departure point in creative photography.He organized the images within these series in an interesting and unique manner, as if they were a dream sequence. All of his photographs from the 70s were black and white, taken with his trademark Leica camera and executed in high contrast. Only his later work features color photographs. The enigmatic compositions of his photographs often reflect the new influence of Surrealism and modernism – speaking about fine art, Gibson is a big admirer of Henri Matisse. Another important milestone in Gibson career happened in 1975 when he decided to move away from creating photo books and begin exhibiting in galleries. He joined Castelli Graphics gallery and organized his first exhibition there, in 1976, called Quadrants.

All of Gibson’s photographs from the 70s were black and white, taken with his trademark Leica camera and executed in high contrast

Ralph Gibson – Bikini and Breast (Untitled), 1972

Nude with Feather and Other Successes

Since the early 1970s, Gibson’s photographs have been published in over 18 photo books. Many of these were publications of Gibson’s Lustrum Press. The artist’s later work, from the 80s, became more formal and it is represented by many monographs, such as Syntax from 1983, Tropism from 1987 and L’Anonyme from 1987. However, his earlier work remains the best of his entire opus – for example, his image Nude With Feather from 1974 is still one of the most wanted nude images on the art market. Also, his Hand Through a Doorway was used as a part of the cover for the album Unknown Pleasures by UK band Joy Division. Gibson has received numberless awards for his work, including a prestigious fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He has also won two honorary doctorates and his work is the part of important international permanent collections, such as MOMA, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the International Center for Creative Photography and Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, to name a few. Nowadays, Gibson often works as a fashion photographer – for instance, he collaborates with the Italian luxury brand called Bottega Veneta.

Nude With Feather from 1974 is still one of the most wanted nude images on the art market

Ralph Gibson - Leda (Nude with Feather), 1974 terms use light page print terms use light page print

Inspiring Young Photographers

Gibson’s international success and mysterious, surreal appeal of work continue to inspire younger photographers. In his interviews, the artist often recalls the departure point term that legendary Dorothea Lang mentioned to him long time ago and he gives a similar piece of advice to his young colleagues – Photography is a medium in which the ideas of others are easily borrowed, but to hack off a piece of the territory that is one’s own, a visual area which constantly refers to one’s own enterprise, doesn’t often happen. I would rather be a mediocre pioneer than an excellent imitator. Gibson knows how it feels to win the most severe inner battle and he wishes the same to many budding photography talents.

The artist is represented by Kunzt Gallery.

Ralph Gibson lives and works in New York City.

Featured image: Ralph Gibson’s portrait – Photo credits © Carol Harrison
All other images © the artist

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2016Palm Springs Fine Art FairTerry Etherton GalleryGroup
2016Ralph GibsonPalm Springs Museum of ArtSolo
2015Ralph GibsonMary Boone Gallery, New YorkSolo
2015Paris Photo L.A.Terry Etherton GalleryGroup
2015Ralph GibsonLeica Gallery, Warsaw, PolandSolo
2015Bangkok Photo FestivalRMA Institute, ThailandGroup
2015Ralph GibsonMONO Leitz Park, Wetzlar, GermanySolo
2015Political Abstraction Etherton Gallery, Tuscon, AZGroup
2015Political Abstraction Leica Gallery, Sao PauloGroup
2014Ralph GibsonGoeun Museum, Busan, KoreaSolo
2014Ralph GibsonWuyue Art Gallery, 798, BeijingSolo
2014Ralph GibsonLeica Gallery, Hollywood, CalifSolo
2014Ralph GibsonPaci Contemporary, Brescia, ItalySolo
2014Ralph GibsonGalerie Samuel Lallouz, Montreal, CanadaSolo
2013Ralph GibsonKahmann Gallery, AmsterdamSolo
2013Ralph GibsonThe Museum of Image and Sound, Sao Paulo, BrazilSolo
2013Ralph GibsonChina Central Academy of Fine Arts, BeijingSolo
2013Ralph GibsonGold Street Studios, Victoria, AustraliaSolo
2012Ralph GibsonThe High Museum of Art, Atlanta, GASolo
2012Ralph GibsonGallery 916, Tokyo, JapanSolo
2012Ralph GibsonPoint Light Gallery, Sydney, AustraliaSolo
2012Ralph GibsonLes Murs (The Old City Walls) Toulouse, FranceSolo
2011Ralph GibsonPalm Beach Photographic Center Museum,  FloridaSolo
2011Ralph GibsonSpectrum Gallery, Rochester, NYSolo
2011Ralph GibsonThe Leica Gallery, ParisSolo
2010Ralph GibsonLeica Gallery, Solms, GermanySolo
2010Red Shirley Screening Marfa Film Festival, TXGroup
2010Ralph GibsonRoss Art Museum, Ohio Wesleyan UniversitySolo
2010Ralph GibsonPhoto4, Paris, FranceSolo
2010Ralph GibsonGallery SEE+, BeijingSolo
2009Ralph GibsonArt Gallery of Windsor, Ontario, CanadaSolo
2009Ralph GibsonArca Arte, Vercelli, ItaliaSolo
2009RalphGibsonPhoto 4, ParisSolo
2009Ralph GibsonFahey / Klein Gallery, HollywoSolo
2008Ralph GibsonThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TXSolo
2008Ralph GibsonThe Fototeca in Havana, CubaSolo
2008Ralph GibsonThe Moscow Biennale of Photography, RussiaSolo
2007Ralph GibsonThe Helmut Newton Foundation, BerlinSolo
2007Ralph GibsonCenter for Creative Photograhy, Tucson, AZSolo
2006Ralph GibsonSoka Art Gallery, Beijing, ChinaSolo
2006Ralph GibsonGallerie LWS, ParisSolo
2006Ralph Gibson92nd Street YMCA, New York CitySolo
2006Ralph GibsonTheatre de la Photographie, Nice, FrancSolo
2005Ralph GibsonGalleria d'Arte Moderna, Bologna, ItalySolo
2005Ralph GibsonSun Art Center, Seoul, KoreaSolo
2005Ralph GibsonUniversity of Kentucky Art Museum, Lexington, KYSolo
2004Ralph GibsonThe Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FloridaSolo
2004Ralph GibsonThe Hermes Store Gallery, Beverly Hills, CASolo
2004Ralph GibsonThe Hermes Store Gallery, New York City, NYSolo
2004Ralph GibsonThe Ross Museum, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OHSolo
2003Ralph GibsonMoscow House of Photography, RussiaSolo
2003Ralph GibsonThe Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto, CanadaSolo
2002Ralph GibsonSimon Patrich Gallery, Vancouver, British ColumbiaSolo
2002Ralph GibsonThe Benham Gallery, Seattle, WashingtonSolo
2002Ralph GibsonGalerie Aittuares, Paris, FranceSolo
2002Ralph GibsonGalerie Lucie Weil Seligman, Paris, FranceSolo
2001Ralph GibsonCenter for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, TucsonSolo
2001Ralph GibsonBjorn Wetterling, Stockholm, SweedenSolo
2000Ralph GibsonKerava Art Museum, Kereva,FinlandSolo
2000Ralph GibsonGalerie Lucie Weil Seligman, Paris, FranceSolo
2000Ralph GibsonMichael Hoppen Gallery, London, EnglandSolo
2000Ralph GibsonGalerie Bodo Neimann, Berlin, GermanySolo
2000Ralph GibsonGalleria Carla Sozzani, Milan, ItalySolo
2000Ralph GibsonMichael Hoppen Gallery, London, EnglandSolo
2000Ralph GibsonCasino Bellevue, Biarritz, FranceSolo
1998Ralph GibsonTower Gallery, Yokohama, JapanSolo
1998Ralph GibsonGreenville County Museum of Art, Greenville. S.C.Solo
1998Ralph GibsonGalerie Bodo Neiman,Documenta, Basel, SwitzerlandSolo
1998Ralph GibsonNarodni Muzej Zadar, CroatiaSolo
1998Ralph GibsonGail Gibson Gallery, Seattle, WashingtonSolo
1998Ralph GibsonSandra Berler Gallery, Chevy Chase, MarylandSolo
1997Ralph GibsonHigh Museum of Art, AtlantaSolo
1997Ralph GibsonHoward Greenberg Gallery, New YorkSolo
1997Ralph GibsonV. Sp√°la Gallery, PragueSolo
1996Ralph GibsonWhitney Museum of American ASolo
1996Ralph GibsonLeo Castelli Gallery, New York CitySolo
1996Ralph GibsonFrankfurt Kunstverhein, Frankfurt, GermanySolo
1996Ralph GibsonLeica Gallery, New York CitySolo
1996Ralph GibsonJoel Soroka Gallery, AspenSolo
1996Ralph GibsonGaleria Forum, Tarragona, SpainSolo
1995Ralph GibsonFrench Cultural Services, New YorkSolo
1995Ralph GibsonTampa Museum of Art, FloridaSolo
1995Ralph GibsonGuild Hall Museum, East Hampton, NYSolo
1995Ralph GibsonCantor Art Gallery, Holy Cross University, Worchester, MASolo
1994Ralph GibsonButler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, OHSolo
1994Ralph GibsonART JONCTION, Leo Castelli, CannesSolo
1993L'Aire de BourgogneEspace des Arts, Chalon sur Saone, FranceGroup
1992Ralph GibsonGalerie Antoine Candau, Paris, FranceSolo
1992Pictures Of PeaceLouise Jones Brown Gallery, Duke University, NCGroup
1991Ralph GibsonCastelli Graphics, New YorkSolo
1991Ralph GibsonGalerie Municipal du Chateau d'Eau, Toulouse, FranceSolo
1990Ralph GibsonMusee Nicephore Niepce, Calon Sur Soane, FranceSolo
1990Ralph GibsonAlbin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery, University of Maryland, BaltimoreSolo
1989Ralph GibsonGalerie Fiolet, AmsterdamSolo
1989Ralph GibsonThe Arts Club of ChicagoSolo
1988Ralph GibsonThe Photographer's Gallery, LondonSolo
1988Ralph GibsonGalerie Rene Metras, BarcelonaSolo
1987Ralph GibsonVilla Medici, RomeSolo
1986Ralph GibsonMusee Carnavalet, ParisSolo
1985Ralph GibsonLeo Castelli Gallery, New YorkSolo
1984Ralph GibsonWeston Gallery, Carmel, CaliforniaSolo
1983Ralph GibsonSeattle Art MuseumSolo
1982Ralph GibsonCentre Georges Pompidou, ParisSolo
1981Ralph GibsonSprengel Museum, Hanover, West GermanySolo
1980Ralph GibsonCastelli Graphics, New YorkSolo
1979Ralph GibsonWerkstatt Fur Photographie, BerlinSolo
1978Ralph GibsonRobert Self Gallery, LondonSolo
1977Ralph GibsonVan Reekum Galerij Museum, Apeldoorn, The NetherlandsSolo
1976Ralph GibsonPhotographers Gallery, MelbourneSolo
1975Ralph GibsonHoesch Museum, Duren, West GermanySolo