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Ralph Gibson and Lustrum Press, 1970-1985: A Chapter in the History of Photo Book Publishing

Less than 50 years ago, few opportunities existed to showcase fine-art photography. Not satisfied with showing photography to a limited audience, Ralph Gibson created his own publishing outlet, Lustrum Press.

In the recent compendium The Photobook: A History, vol. 1 (Phaidon, 2005), historian Gerry Badger calls Lustrum “arguably the best of the small American photobook publishers of the 1970s.”

To highlight this seminal period in photographic history, the exhibition Ralph Gibson and Lustrum Press, 1970 – 1984 will be on view at the Center for Creative Photography from June 16 through September 30, 2007. Gibson will visit the Center on Friday, September 28, for an artist’s talk and reception as the closing event in the exhibition program schedule.

Gibson (b. 1939) is one of the leading figures in modern photography. Influenced as a young man by Dorothea Lange and Robert Frank, both of whom he assisted in the 1960s, Gibson developed a personal aesthetic—based on stark contrasts, graphic precision, and suggestive mystery—through his encounters with European film, literature, and music.
“Lustrum Press, which Gibson founded in New York in 1970, had an immediate impact on the photography scene with its striking and often provocative publications,” curator Britt Salvesen said.

Gibson’s own work appears in the influential trilogy The Somnambulist (1970), Déjà-vu (1973), and Days at Sea (1974). Lustrum also published monographs dedicated to the photographs of then-unknown artists Larry Clark (Tulsa, 1971), Danny Seymour (A Loud Song, 1972), Mary Ellen Mark (Passport, 1974), and others. Later thematic titles bring together an extraordinary variety of photographers active during this period. Lustrum Press opened new possibilities in fine-art photography, setting a new standard of quality and pioneering an enigmatic mode of visual communication.

The Center’s first director, Harold Jones, approached Gibson about his archive during the institution’s earliest years. Both men understood the importance of preserving the record of a living artist’s creative process. Over many years Gibson has sent unique documents and artifacts that tell the story of his amazingly diverse and committed career in photography.
Archivist Amy Rule said, “This exhibition draws on Gibson’s archival resources to describe an influential chapter in the history of photographic book publishing.”
On view are over 50 prints by Gibson and nearly 30 prints by other artists published under the Lustrum imprint, among them Robert Frank, Manuel Alvarez-Bravo, Paul Caponigro, and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Artifacts such as book mock-ups, printers’ invoices, and publicity materials give a sense of Lustrum’s operation. Items from other Center archives illustrate two important Lustrum titles from the mid-seventies, Darkroom (1976) and Darkroom 2 (1978), in which the decade’s most prominent photographers speak about their working methods. Here, we can view the actual negatives, printing notes, tools, and contact sheets used by the masters and seen in the Darkroom books. With his dedication to the book format, Gibson continues to share his unique vision with new generations of photographers today.


Sunday, September 9, 1:00 p.m.
Gallery Walk
Tour the exhibition with Mary Statzer, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in the History of
Photography at the University of Arizona. She recently completed a Center for Creative Photography internship, focusing on Ralph Gibson and Lustrum Press.

Tuesday, September 18, 5:30 p.m.
The Obvious History: Photography and Books
The past ten years have witnessed the birth of a new area of academic discipline: the history of the photography book. In a presentation examining the history of the medium, Darius Himes—editor of photo-eye Booklist, a quarterly magazine devoted to photobooks—will discuss the marriage of photography and the book, emphasizing publishing activities since 1970. Himes is a lecturer and has written for Blind Spot, BOMB, and American Photo. He is also Adjunct Professor of Photographic Arts at the College of Santa Fe. He earned a BFA in Photography from Arizona State University, Tempe, and a Master of Arts in Liberal Arts from St. John's College, Santa Fe campus, and actively pursues his own photographic image-making.
Friday, September 28, 5 – 7 p.m.
Closing reception and artist talk by Ralph Gibson

Release date: 
Tuesday, May 8, 2007