A Glimpse of China in the 1950s Under Marc Riboud's Lens

Born in Lyon in 1923 in France, the celebrated photographer Marc Riboud was one of the few foreigners who had the privilege to photograph China in the 1950s and 60s. With close attention to its land, people, politics and cultural setting, his series on China are significant not only in terms of photography, but also in terms of history and culture of China as they unveil realities during Mao-era.

© Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

© Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

Since his first photograph taken at the age of 13, Riboud has travelled extensively for his photography projects, to India, China, Western Africa, North and South Vietnam, just to name a few. Some of his best-known projects are The Three Banners of China, Face of North Vietnam, Visions of China, and In China .

Before heading to China for his extensive projects, Riboud moved to Paris, where he met Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, two of the founders of Magnum Photos. Impressed by Riboud’s works, the two invited him to join the organization. In 1976, Riboud became the President of Magnum, yet he chose to resign three years later in order to pursue his passion for photography and traveling. 

During his numerous trips to China, Riboud had chances to meet Communist leaders such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, as well as people from all walks of life. The above photo was taken at a steel mill in Liaoning province, where a group of engineers were having lunch at the canteen of the factory.

Like Riboud's other photos depicting workers and farmers in 1950s and 60s, this photo captured a daily scene which repeats itself day after day. The subjects appeared to be at ease and focused on what's in front of them. Neither was Riboud too close to the subjects to cause intrusion, nor was he too far to create a sense of detachment. Through Riboud lens, his images are not only important documentation of the society at the time, but they also express Riboud's observation and curiosity toward this country in the East.

For more photos of Riboud on China, please visit Magnum Photos.