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Robert Delpire, Champion of Photography as Art, Dies at 91

“He moved forward to do what he felt was right,” Mr. MacGill added. “And he was keeping the photographers’ best interests at heart.”

Pace/MacGill was one of several galleries in New York City that joined together in 2012 to pay tribute to Mr. Delpire.

For Mr. Delpire, it was not enough that photographers be “mere witnesses who see things and scoop up events,” he told the website Aperture.org in an interview. Rather, he said, “those who say what they think in their photos — they’re the artists.”


“Les Americains,” published by Mr. Delpire in 1958, was followed the next year by an American version, “The Americans,” published by Grove Press. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Mr. Delpire recognized that quality in the documentarylike photos that the Swiss-born Mr. Frank made during his rambles around the United States in 1955 and 1956. And he saw the artistic value of Mr. Frank’s photos before any American publishers did. Mr. Delpire published “Les Americains,” a collection of 83 of Mr. Frank’s black-and-white photos of ordinary Americans, in 1958.

A year later, Grove Press published the book as “The Americans,” with an introduction by Jack Kerouac. It has since come to be viewed as a masterpiece for its stark realism and its empathetic vision.

“Photography books until Robert had a formula,” Mr. Hoppen said. “They were a little stale, a little rigid. He reinvented them. He understood how pages worked and how one photograph related to the other.”

Libération, the French newspaper, quoted Mr. Delpire’s description of his relationship to each photographer: “A publisher is a craftsman. He is at the service of the author. To make a good book of photography is not to make a book for oneself but for the author.”

He was passionate about creating the proper sequences in which to view photos, knowing that the eye viewed images differently when they are bound in a book as opposed to hanging on a gallery wall.

Mr. Delpire’s editing of Mr. Koudelka’s book “Gitans, la Fin du Voyage” — published in English as “Gypsies” — “moves us quickly into the visual energy of the community,” the photographer Jeffrey Ladd wrote on Time.com nearly 40 years after Mr. Delpire published it in 1975, “mixing frenetic action with direct portraits where the postures of the subjects signal their acceptance of Koudelka’s presence and camera.”

Robert Delpire was born in Paris on Jan. 24, 1926. He did not see publishing as a career until 1950, when he was in medical school in Paris and agreed to turn a faculty bulletin into a cultural review.

Despite his lack of experience, he published the magazine, Neuf, for three years, filling it with photos from the likes of Mr. Cartier-Bresson, Mr. Frank and Robert Doisneau, as well as illustrations by Saul Steinberg and written works by Claude Roy, Jacques Prévert and André Breton.

The review begot Mr. Delpire’s book-publishing career, over the course of which he was associated with many elite photographers, including Robert Capa, Inge Morath Brassai and William Klein. Many of the photographers he published were part of the Magnum Photos co-op.

In addition to the major books he published, Mr. Delpire created Photo Poche, a series of small, modestly priced books designed to popularize photography. For those books, he was awarded the Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York in 1985.

Mr. Delpire also ran an advertising agency and produced “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee” (1969), a documentary about Muhammad Ali, and “Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?” (1966), a feature film, both directed by Mr. Klein.

Mr. Klein later added footage to the Ali documentary from Ali’s fight in 1974 against George Foreman in Zaire.

Mr. Delpire is survived by his wife. Complete information on survivors was not immediately available.

When analyzing the beauty or significance of a photograph, Mr. Delpire needed it to make more than a simple statement. He looked for it to “enhance the significance of a fact, the psychology of a person, the specificity of a person,” he told Aperture.org.

A good photo, he added, “requires sensitivity, patience, vivacity, graphic sense, not to mention technical knowledge. The talent is the ‘cherry on the cake,’ as we say in French. … We publishers are looking for the cherries.”

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