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Richard Kalvar Gets His Photos to Talk to the Viewer

·4 min read

“They live within the walls of a limiting rectangle, unconscious of everything outside,” says Magnum photographer Richard Kalvar about the ‘paradox of photography’. If you’re a fan of his work, which uniquely captures the oddity that is mankind, we recommend grabbing one of his prints via the Magnum Square Print Sale right away.

The Square Print Sales runs until October 24th. You can buy your favorite prints here.

A Quick Chat with Richard Kalvar

This is one of the best times of the year to purchase a coveted Magnum print. That’s because their Square Print Sale is on, and Magnum is allowing photography fans to buy a print for just $100. Richard was kind enough to devote some time for a candid interview with The Phoblographer. Be sure to head over to Magnum’s website to purchase a print for yourself after you read this piece, as the sale ends later today!

The Phoblographer: Hi Richard, what inspired your career move to Paris so many decades ago?

Richard Kalvar: In 1969, I had a string of chance encounters which ultimately led to a French theater director, Antoine Bourseiller, who was traveling around the States on a Ford Foundation fellowship. We became friends, and when he returned to Marseilles and wrote a play inspired by his experiences there, he contacted me to offer me a French-speaking role. He said that he wanted actors who weren’t really actors, which was certainly my case. I was a photographer. But why not? I went, I acted, and at the end of my magnificent dramatic career of three months, I returned to taking pictures and making contacts in the French photography world. I’m still there.

The Phoblographer: Your photos have a sense of peculiarity but also familiarity to them, in terms of human strangeness. What’s that sixth sense like which helps you seek out such frames?

Richard Kalvar: I think I just have a predisposition to see the mysterious and the absurd in daily life and to create visual objects that convey that. It requires a mastery of form, which I’ve been trying to get right for the last fifty years.

The Phoblographer: You’ve almost exclusively shot in black and white. Tell us more about your attachment to this format of film and the reason you continue to show the world in this way.

Richard Kalvar: From the very beginning, I’ve been fascinated by the paradox of photography: its great resemblance to ordinary life, all the while being something else entirely. Unlike reality, pictures don’t move, they’re two-dimensional, silent, odorless and frozen in time, and they live within the walls of a limiting rectangle, unconscious of everything outside. It’s something that I love to play with. And black and white offers a further degree of abstraction.

The Phoblographer: Tell us about the Hyde Park photo. Any connection between the upturned bike and the subject? What caught the subject’s eye in the sky?

Richard Kalvar: I’ve learned over the years not to answer questions like these. I cultivate magic and mystery, and when you explain your sleights of hand to people, they tend to lose interest. I want them to enter into the picture and keep on looking and imagining. I should say sleights of eye rather than hand because I don’t pose my pictures, and I don’t manipulate them in Photoshop. Everything happens in the viewfinder as I press the button.

<strong>Hyde Park, London, UK. 2015 – Richard Kalvar</strong>
Hyde Park, London, UK. 2015 – Richard Kalvar

Richard Kalvar: Is there a print that you consider to be your personal favourite? Which one is it, and why is it on the top of your list?

Richard Kalvar: I like this one, by my French colleague Patrick Zachmann. Normally he’s a people photographer, like me. And like me, he’s sometimes attracted to something else. Here, I can feel the cold grey day and the sensation of movement across the field, parallel to the horizon, the trees in the front blurry from the motion and those in the back forever stationary.

<strong>Highway A1, France. 1985 – Patrick Zachmann</strong>
Highway A1, France. 1985 – Patrick Zachmann

The Phoblographer: For me, it would be a trip to a colony of Emperor penguins in Antarctica. If energy, time and money weren’t constraints, what would you consider to be the final frontier for your photo projects?

Richard Kalvar: I don’t necessarily have to go to far-off lands to take pictures that excite me, although I might say that it would be great to be able to return to Rome to get further along in a project I began a long time ago.

You don’t have long to buy a print; the Square Print Sales runs until October 24th. Now’s your chance to buy a print from your favorite Magnum photographer!