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In addition to the launch of his extensive retrospective at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg, the large crowd present on Thursday evening had the opportunity to experience the photographer’s musical talent on the guitar. Following the opening speeches, a seemingly very relaxed Gibson went up on stage and performed jazz improvisations, accompanied by projections of his images and picture collages. There was plenty of applause, as well as delighted appreciation for the exhibition, which encompasses over 300 pieces of work. It is the most comprehensive display of Gibson’s oeuvre to date; and the photographer was full of praise for the careful selection put together by Deichtorhallen curator Sabine Schnakenberg, and the manner in which the images are displayed.

Presented in twelve distinctive groups, the arc spans from early photographs Gibson took in the sixties, and unfolds to offer exciting insight into his life’s work. His most recent pictures are focused primarily on nature studies, and were taken just last year. The important early blocks of work from The Black Trilogy – which caused a sensation when he began publishing them as photo books as of 1970 –, could not fail to make up part of the exhibition: iconic motifs from the The Somnambulist, Deja-Vu and Days at Sea series illustrate the consistency of Gibson’s position as an artistic photographer during that period, and established him as a style-setting role model within the international photography scene.

Gibson decided, early in his career, that he did not want his work to focus on the photographic reproduction of reality: rather, he wanted photography itself to be understood as an aesthetic reality. His imagery isolates and abstracts, plays with light and shadow, and gives rise to motifs where a magical effect unfolds, alternating effortlessly between reality and subconsciousness, truth and fantasy, memory and projection.  

For Leica lovers, the Secret of Light exhibition is quite simply a must: once again, the importance of the right tool to realise an aesthetic vision is clearly in evidence. Starting in the early sixties, Gibson put his trust in Leica cameras, and it was a Leica Monochrom that later led him to switch from analogue technology – which he had long considered the only valid form of photography – to digital photography. He took this step with decisiveness, and there was no turning back, as shown in the series he produced as of 2012: “I spent 55 years in the dark room, and my sincere wish is to spend the next 55 working in a digital one,” he muses. To this day, the creativity of the now 84-year-old Gibson seems inexhaustible, and ensures that this exhibition will be a sensational event! (Ulrich Rüter)

Ralph Gibson, Secret of Light, at the Halle für Aktuelle Kunst, Deichtorhallen Hamburg, until August 20, 2023. Afterwards, the exhibition will be on display at the Kunstfoyer, Versicherungskammer Kulturstiftung, in Munich.

The accompanying catalogue has been published by Kehrer Verlag. 240 pages, 36 colour and 120 black and white images, 24 × 32 cm, German/English.

You can find an interview with Gibson in LFI Magazine 8/2021.

First four images: © Jakob Boerner; every other image on this page: © Ralph Gibson
© Andrea Blanche

Ralph Gibson

Born in Los Angeles in 1939, and has been living and working in New York since the mid-sixties. He was trained in photography during his military service at the US Naval School of Photography in Pensacola. In 1960/61, he studied Photography at the San Francisco Art Institute, and became an assistant to Dorothea Lange; later on, he worked with Robert Frank. He was part of the Magnum Photo Agency for a short while in the sixties, before deciding to drop commercial assignments and photojournalism, in favour of his own artistic photography, which is defined by associative and surreal elements. In 1969, he founded Lustrum Press, which has published over 40 monographs to date. Gibson is represented in the most important private and museum collections. He has been exhibited worldwide, and is the recipient of many awards, including the Leica Medal of Excellence in 1988, and the French L‘ordre national de la Légion d’honneur in 2018. In 2021, Ralph Gibson was honoured with the Leica Hall of Fame Award.

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