Richard Kalvar’s images, in his own words, thrive on “ambiguity and mystery.” One of his best loved images, taken in the Piazza della Rotonda in Rome, Italy, in 1980, offers up multiple meanings and narratives and it is precisely that, which makes it so alluring. “When I tell people what was ‘really happening’ in a picture, they stop looking at it,” says Kalvar, of the picture.

The photograph is completely abstracted from life, yet it looks like life. That is what has always excited me about photography

Richard Kalvar
© Richard Kalvar | Magnum Photos

Richard Kalvar was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied English and American literature at Cornell University in the early 1960s and it was an extended trip with a camera to Europe in 1966-1967 that made him decide to become a photographer.

Since then, he has covered a diverse range of political and social subjects around the world, from miners’ strikes in England to politics in the US and France, the death of Pope Paul VI in Rome, hobos riding freight trains in America, portraits of Japan, Turkey and Italy, the difficulty of farming in Brittany, and much more. But it is his iconic street photography work that has been the most important continuous thread throughout his 50-year career, culminating in the retrospective book and exhibition, Earthlings (2007).

Kalvar joined Magnum as an associate member in 1975, and became a full member two years later. He has lived in Paris since the '70s.

© Richard Kalvar | Magnum Photos

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