Obituary: Robert Delpire, Publisher of Robert Frank, Josef Koudelka, Cartier-Bresson

September 27, 2017

The cover of Delpire's edition of Koudelka's Les Gitans: La Fin du Voyage (Gypsies), which was published in 1975.

Robert Delpire, who published Robert Frank’s The Americans and worked with many of the most important photographers of the 20th century, passed away September 26 at the age of 91. As a publisher, editor and curator, Delpire collaborated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Josef Koudelka, Inge Morath, William Klein, Paolo Roversi, Lee Friedlander, Rene Burri, Walker Evans, Brassaï, Sarah Moon and Duane Michals, among numerous other photographers. Delpire was also a gallerist and curator, magazine and advertising art director, and film producer. He was given the ICP Infinity Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1997.

In a 2012 article about a Delpire retrospective exhibition, Delpire said, “A publisher’s job is to showcase the work of others. It’s not just the work of a team; it requires deep mutual understanding. I’ve never published anyone who was of no interest to me.”

Delpire began publishing photography in 1950 as a 23-year-old medical student. As editor-in-chief of Neuf, a cultural journal he created for the faculty of Maison de la Medicine. Delpire featured the work of Cartier-Bresson, Brassaï and Frank, among other photographers, demonstrating his eye for and interest in the medium of photography. He began publishing monographs in the mid-1950s, first under the imprint Huit and then as Delpire & Co. Delpire’s early titles included Cartier-Bresson’s The People of Moscow (1955) and Inge Morath’s Fiesta in Pamplona (1955). He published Frank’s The Americans in 1958, and went on to publish both Gypsies (1975) and Exiles (1988) by Josef Koudelka, and William Klein’s Tokyo (1964), among countless other titles.

In addition to his work as a publisher, Delpire also opened a Paris gallery and founded an advertising agency in the 1960s. in 1982, Delpire founded the Centre National de la Photographie in Paris (now called the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume), and served as its director until 1996. It was there that he created the Photo Poche series of small, pocket-sized monographs, which made photography affordable and accessible to a wider audience. The Photo Poche collection grew to include more than 150 books and earned him the Prix Nadar and an ICP Infinity Award in 1984 and 1985 respectively. Delpire also produced films, including a Muhamad Ali documentary and the fashion satire Who Are You, Polly Maggoo, both by William Klein.

A retrospective exhibition, Delpire & Co, premiered in 2009 at the Recontres d’Arles festival, then later traveled to the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris and to New York in 2012, where it was shown across four venues, including Aperture Gallery, The Gallery at Hermès, the French Embassy and New York University.

Delpire is survived by his wife, Sarah Moon.