French photographer Marc Riboud, whose spellbinding images of war, protest, and everyday life captured both the travails and triumphs of his generation, died this Tuesday in Paris at the age of 93.
After quitting a factory job in Lyon at the age of 28, the quiet, unassuming Riboud went on to shoot some of the most memorable images of his time. Encouraged by the almighty father of photojournalism Henri Cartier-Bresson (who later invited Riboud to join his famed Magnum collective), he traversed the globe, capturing a changing political and social landscape. He was one of the only photographers allowed access to both North and South Vietnam in the 1960s as well as one of the first Westerners to photograph Communist China.
One of his most searing photographs ended up in the pages of TIME Magazine in 1967: an image of 17-year-old high-school student Jan Rose Kasmir in the thick of an anti-Vietnam War protest at the Pentagon. In it, she holds a serene gaze and a single chrysanthemum inches away from a legion of soldiers whose bayonets nearly graze her body. The photograph, Flower Child, crystallized a moment when extreme tension and tenderness mingled. This combination powers much of Riboud’s most iconic work.
“What was so amazing about Marc was his true commitment to peace,” Kasmir told Artsy upon the news of Riboud’s passing. “He lived that commitment through his involvement with the French Resistance, risking his life fighting for freedom. After the war he worked to help Vichy France regain its dignity from the Nazis by remembering who and what its citizens were as people, reminding Parisians not to forget their magic and dignity.” Within Kasmir, Riboud instilled a sense of duty as a peacemaker that she carries with her to this day. “What he gave me was the strength to believe in myself,” she said. “Because of Marc I have understood my role and dedication to carry on the tradition passed from him to me. This is a commitment I do not take lightly.”
Even in his images of poverty and conflict—like those that captured Communist China in the 1950s, or the Algerian war for independence in the 1960s—his focus remained on the people, their daily struggles, and, more often than not, their resilience. “My obsession is with photographing life at its most intense as intensely as possible. It’s a mania, a virus as strong as my instinct to be free,” he explained in an essay aptly titled “Pleasures of the Eye” (2000). But he also noted his nose for finding beauty, even in the most dire situations: “I have always been more sensitive to the beauty of the world than to violence and monsters.”
While Riboud’s romantic approach to photojournalism was occasionally reproached by critics, the sense of hope that radiates from his work has served as a model for many of today’s most widely shared images. When Jonathan Bachman’s image of Ieshia Evans peacefully facing a wall of Baton Rouge police during a Black Lives Matter protest went viral in July, its resemblance to Riboud’s 1967 protest image was striking. The issue at hand was different, but the courage and enduring humanity of Bachman’s and Riboud’s subjects were the same.
Riboud’s work proved to future generations of photojournalists that it was possible to instill the subjects he captured with grace and perseverance—even in the most difficult of circumstances.