Gibson, Ralph

Ralph Gibson was born in California and served as a photographer’s mate in the U.S. Navy from 1956 to 1960. After leaving the service, he studied painting and photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1961/62, he worked as a printing assistant to photographer Dorothea Lange. It was Lange who gave him the most important advice of his career – to find his “departure point.” In 1963 he moved back to Los Angeles and began to publish his work in book form, though the reception of his first volumes was poor. His photography of this early period was in a documentary-style influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson and
William Klein.

His images often incorporated fragments with erotic and mysterious undertones, building narrative meaning through contextualization and surreal juxtaposition.

A shift in Gibson’s work appeared in the 1970s and he began to create surreal images for which he is best known that were then published in book form. In 1970 he published The Somnambulist, followed in 1972 by Deja-vu, and in 1974 by Days at Sea. These works established Gibson’s career in creative photography. Both the individual black-and-white photographs, printed in high contrast, and their arrangement made use of enigmatic juxtapositions, reflecting the influence of Surrealism. In 1975 Gibson’s work moved away from books toward exhibitions. He joined Castelli Graphics the same year and had his first exhibition in 1976. Since the early 1970s, Gibson’s photographic series have been published in 18 books and his work is included in important collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, the International Center for Creative Photography, Museum Ludwig in Cologne, West Germany, and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among many others.