In Memoriam: Robert Delpire (1926-2017)

The life of the photography editor and curator who changed the face of the publishing industry

René Burri Robert Delpire, publisher, with double exposure of Inge Morath, Magnum photographer behind her Leica camera and Yin and Yang picture on wall. Paris, France. 1956. © René Burri | Magnum Photos

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.”

Robert Capa © International Center of Photography US troops assault Omaha Beach during the D-Day landings (first assault). Normandy, France. June 6th, 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Robert Capa © International Center of Photography Crowds fill up the Champs Elysees on the 26th August 1944 to celebrate the liberation of Paris. Paris, France. 1944. © Robert Capa © International Center of Photography | Magnum Photos
Henri Cartier-Bresson Boston. Massachusetts, USA. 1947. © Henri Cartier-Bresson | Magnum Photos

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.

Josef Koudelka Warsaw Pact troops invasion. Prague, Czechoslovakia. August 1968. © Josef Koudelka | Magnum Photos
Josef Koudelka Parc de Sceaux. Hauts-de-Seine, France. 1987. © Josef Koudelka | Magnum Photos
A. Abbas Visitors inscribe an oracle on paper and after having read it, stick it to the ground with an arrow, under a sacred tree. The shrine is devoted to the "kami" (deity), representing family and love. (...)
Abbas Pilgrims from all over the country as well as the diaspora come to this sacred waterfall to take a luck bath. With medicinal herbs and perfumes, they ask their Voodoo loas (personal or family spiri (...)

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.

Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation French publisher Robert Delpire. Paris, France. 1955. © Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation | Magnum Photos
René Burri Robert Delpire, publisher. Paris, France. 1956. © René Burri | Magnum Photos

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.

Henri Cartier-Bresson Seated, from left to right: Robert Delpire, Sarah Moon, Martine Franck. Standing: Jeanloup Sieff, Jacques-Henri Lartique, Henri Cartier-Bresson. February 3th, 1973. Collection J.H. Lartigue/Mi (...)
Magnum Collection Robert Delpire and Josef Koudelka. Prague. 1978. (c) Sarah Moon © Magnum Collection | Magnum Photos
Josef Koudelka French publisher Robert Delpire with French photographer Sarah Moon. Paris, France. 2000. © Josef Koudelka | Magnum Photos

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.

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