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Remembering the legendary Robert Delpire

Robert Delpire photographed in Paris, France, 1955 by Inge Morath. Image © Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation/Magnum Photos

The Frenchman was renowned for publishing some of the most influential photobooks of the 20th century, but he also co-founded the Jeu de Paume and much, much more

Pioneering French publisher Robert Delpire has passed away, after a career in photography spanning seven decades. Delpire, who passed away on 26 September, was best-known for founding Éditions Delpire in Paris in the early 1950s, which published iconic photobooks such as Les Américans by Robert Frank (1958), and Gitans by Josef Koudelka (1975).

Born in 1926, Delpire started out by studying medicine but, at the age of 23, co-founded a cultural review for doctors at the Maison de la Medicine. The first issue of Neuf (“Nine” but also “New”) was published in June 1950, and Delpire went on to publish work in it by then little-known artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau and Robert Frank.

Bitten by the photography bug, Delpire soon followed up with more concerted efforts to break into photography publishing. His short-lived imprint Huit (Eight) published Doisneau’s Les Parisiens tels qu’ils sont (1954), Cartier-Bresson’s Les Danses à Bali (1954), and George Rodger’s Le Village des Noubas (1955). In 1955 he set up Delpire and Co, later Éditions Delpire, through which he published work by Robert Frank, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Brassaï, Robert Doisneau and many more.

Les Américans was the fifth publication in a series of books on culture called Encyclopédie Essentielle; prior to finding Delpire, Frank had had great difficulty in securing a publisher for what is now regarded as one of the key photobooks of the 20th century. Delpire opened Galerie Delpire in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris in 1963 to exhibit photographs and books published by Éditions Delpire.

In the 1980s Delpire helped to revolutionise the photobook industry by introducing the Photo Poche series – small, pocket-sized books sold at an affordable price. The Photo Poche collection won the Prix Nadar in 1984 and ICP’s Infinity Award in 1985, and by 2014, there were over 150 titles in the series. In addition, Delpire was artistic director of L’Oeil magazine for eight years.

Alongside his publishing efforts Delpire ran an advertising agency, Delpire Publicité (Delpire Advertising), which attracted international clients such as Citroën and L’Oréal. For a decade from around the mid-1950s, Delpire, in partnership with Claude Puech, produced sales brochures and posters for Citroën, using the work of photographers such as Helmut Newton, Sarah Moon and more.

Delpire also produced films through his company Delpire Productions, which most notably worked on films by William Klein such as Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo? (Who Are You, Polly Maggoo? released in 1966).

In 1982 he founded the Centre National de la Photographie (the National Centre of Photography, now the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume) with the French arts minister Jack Lang, staying on as its director until 1996. In 1988 he founded the Henri Cartier-Bresson Award to help photographers realise otherwise unachievable projects, with Chris Killip, Josef Koudelka and Larry Towell going on to receive it. Delpire founded the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson in 2002, and was still serving on its advisory board at the time of his death.

So influential was Delpire that in 2009, Les Rencontres d’Arles festival in France staged a retrospective of his work titled Delpire & Co. The exhibition was shown in the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris later that year, and in New York in 2012. Delpire was personally awarded ICP’s Infinity Awards for Lifetime Achievement in 1997.

Robert Delpire, 24 January 1926 – 26 September 2017 www.delpire-editeur.fr  www.magnumphotos.com