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Cuba photos become tribute to Marc Riboud at French festival

A tribute to Marc Riboud at Visa pour l'Image
A tribute to Marc Riboud at Visa pour l'Image Rosslyh Hyams/RFI

One of France’s top photographers, Marc Riboud, died this week aged 93. The Visa pour l’image festival in Perpignan paid a special tribute to the man who recorded events and life in the 20th century on Saturday night. 

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Marc Riboud’s professional family, photojournalists and editors from around the world, were meeting at the Visa pour l’Image fair when the news came that Riboud had passed away after a long illness on 31 August.

Visa projected some of his photos on the big screen in a special tribute on Saturday at the Campo Santo in Perpignan, the nightly rendezvous for those joining in Visa pour l’Image in the French south-western city.

Riboud’s photographs often became historic moments themselves and they gave insight and information about how others, in Asia, in Latin America, worked, fought and struggled.

They were published in top photo magazines such as Life or through agency networks.

Cuba reportage photos on show

By coincidence the United States made up with communist Cuba after more a 50-year freeze on ties just months before Riboud’s death, leading to photos from a 1963 reporting assignment on rural life in Cuba being chosen for an exhibition at Visa pour l’Image 2016.

French journalist Jean Daniel, who wrote the accompanying text when they were published, had come from Washington. With official communications broken off, President John F Kennedy entrusted the journalist with messages for the Cuban supremo, Fidel Castro.

A few days later Kennedy was assassinated.

In one photo Castro, who had taken power just a few years earlier, is demonstrative and expressive, apparently talking late into the night. In the background a person has slumped into sleep.

The exhibition also shows Riboud’s elegant way of portraying ordinary people. Pictures of Cubans hard at work in offices or factories, shapely Cuban ladies in the city, wistful children, and intense men reveal the photographer’s deeply human regard behind the lens.

Daily life and historic moments

These photographs and others have been published in a book on Riboud’s reporting work in Cuba in 1963 along with pieces written by Jean Daniel.

Valérie Giraud of La Martinère publishers, who handled the graphics and layout for the book, explained why, in consultation with Riboud’s wife Catherine and their assistants, the book contains more photos in the book.

“The book had to tell a story, so we added some photos to make that link between life in the city and in the countryside,” she said. “It’s so readers can understand this particular notion of making Cubans adapt to a new way of life.

“For example, the report about former prostitutes. They were taught a profession, and to work in a team, in order to further the aims of the revolution. We put the elements together so the reader can discover Cuba as it was then.”

In decades of documenting daily life and historical moments through the eye of the camera, Riboud caught the essential part of photoreporting - capturing fleeting images to allow them to remain in people’s minds.

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