Blitheful Riboud on the Eiffel


One must be hale and hearty with nerves of steel to attack climbing the old spiral staircase, long gone today, of Gustave Eiffel’s Iron Lady. Especially when one is thirty, filled with provincial wonder and timid by nature, armed solely with a roll of Kodak and a Leica slung across the shoulder whose viewfinder, on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s advice, has the annoying habit of looking at the world upside down. First photographer’s vertigo for Marc Riboud, an engineer converted into a reporter of the hic et nunc, here nearly 300 metres above Paris.

Of this handful of funambulists painting against the sky without a net, only one will go down in history. At lunch time, between two slices of dry sausage, they nickname him Zazu, and it’s true, he is elegant and he swings, even 55 years later, forever an acrobat with his entire being, a bird from top to toe, against the background of the fog and the Trocadero. Facing the tightrope walker, a discreet voyeur who squeezes his eyes shut with fear every time the professional leans over to dip his paintbrush, shooting, here, his first photo-fétiche.

On the contact sheet, once the lookout has come back down to earth, Robert Capa choses the best one, the 24th, and sells it to a prestigious magazine. Blitheful on the Eiffel was the caption Life gave the man with a put-on air of Chaplin, a smoker in three-quarter profile à la Humphrey Bogart. “It’s reality that’s at the end of the line of sight—the reality that framing can transform into a dream,” explains Marc Riboud, who never stops repeating that non è pericoloso sporgersi, and that we should disobey the warnings on the trains of our childhood. No, it is not dangerous to want to lean outside…

If sometimes he prefers a disposable camera to a too heavy Leica, it’s because this great name of the Magnum agency knows the only thing that counts is not technique, not experience, but the look. “If the taste for life diminishes, the photos fade, because to photograph is to savor life at the hundredth of a second.”


Sophie Nauleau