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12 July 2009

Delpire & Co

Two years ago (or maybe a little more) my friends Hébel and Monterosso asked me if they could put on a retrospective of what we’d been up to for the last 127 years (or maybe a little less). Tributes and medals aren’t really my thing, so I said no. Really no. During the few years I’ve got, I said, left, I prefer to fiddle around with the incurable, like the philosopher Cioran. And it’s dangerous to advance looking back over your shoulder. They went along with this argument (without believing it).

I thought the matter was closed, but as the months went by people started bringing it up again. A sort of competition: who could get me to accept? Some of them even said it would be nice to be on in Arles and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie at the same time.

Unconvinced, I looked for some justification for doing it. Then one day, feeling like Voltaire that the surest thing is to be sure of nothing, I recalled that I had often said and written that a publisher is not an artist but a ‘gobetween’, a mediator between writers, painters and photographers and the craftsmen who put their work into usable form. For me each link in the long chain from manuscript or negative to book has its own importance. And I realised that this retrospective might be a chance to thank the artists and all the other participants in the fascinating adventure of publishing. I wanted to extol the talents of my artist friends and salute the craftsmen friends who ensure their continued existence.

So I got back to François and Jean-Luc and suggested a title for the exhibition. ‘Mille Mercis’ (‘Thank You So Much’) was accepted with relief and regarded as definitive. Until, digging around in an old file, I came upon two words set in type by Herb Lubalin which offered a simple, all-embracing title: Delpire & Cie (‘Delpire & Co.’) says clearly that I’m not the only one involved, that there are also the assistants, graphic designers, typographers, production and electronics specialists, photoengravers, printers, binders and publicity people.

‘And the ship sails on’, Fellini says, and all these people who are part of my world will be rowing with me to make this exhibition what I hope it will be: a great big THANK YOU.

And rather than the hefty catalogue that usually comes with this kind of event, I’ve opted for three little books in a format whose virtues I’ve never ceased to appreciate since, thanks to Minister of Culture Jack Lang, we at the Centre National de la Photographie created the Photo Poche series.

Enjoy the show!

Robert Delpire


Exhibition venue : Espace Van Gogh and Eglise des Trinitaires, Rencontres d’Arles 2009.