In Memoriam: Robert Delpire (1926-2017)
The life of the photography editor and curator who changed the face of the publishing industry
Born in 1926, Robert Delpire was an art publisher, editor and curator with a keen interest in documentary photography. During his fruitful and extraordinary career, Delpire worked closely with Magnum photographers and contributed significantly to their visibility thanks to publications and exhibitions, distributing their images around the world.
Delpire took an active approach to developing work with photographers: he travelled to Iran with Inge Morath, for example, and designed and wrote an essay for Josef Koudelka’s historic book Exiles. As Morath recalled, “Delpire accompanied me there, and then I drove back alone with my Armenian driver. But sometimes even he was afraid. If nomads came, he stayed at a great distance and I went walking towards them, armed with aspirin and sugar.”
Among the books by Magnum photographers published or designed by Robert Delpire during his career are Juste un peu flou by Robert Capa, Des Images et des Mots by Henri Cartier-Bresson, L’épreuve totalitaire and Gypsies by Josef Koudelka, Sur la route des esprits by Abbas, Les Allemands by René Burri and Made in Belgium by Harry Gruyaert.
Founding the cultural publication Neuf for his fellow medical students when he was only twenty-three years old, Delpire was soon driven by a wish to share his passion for the work of Brassaï, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Robert Frank with non-professional photography amateurs. In 1955, he founded his own publishing company Delpire & Co, as well as the magazine L’Oeil, which he ran for eight years.
Robert Delpire organised exhibitions of photography around the world. In 1982, he founded the Centre National de la Photographie (now le Jeu de Paume) in Paris, with French arts minister Jack Lang, and was its director until 1996.
During his time as a director, Delpire had his own gallery, Gallery Delpire, and created and published Photo Poche, the first collection of pocket-sized books dedicated to photography. Facilitating access to photography to a large audience, Delpire’s democratic strategy contributed to produce and disseminate the work of hundreds of photographers, many of them from Magnum. Robert Delpire won the Prix Nadar, as well as the IC’s Infinity Award for this project. In 2002, he established the Henri Cartier-Bresson Foundation.
Robert Delpire was personally awarded ICP’s Infinity Awards for Lifetime Achievement, The Cultural Award from the German Society for Photography with his wife Sarah Moon, and received the Royal Photographic Society’s Centenary Medal for his contribution to the cultural world.
Robert Delpire passed away on the 26th of September 2017.