by Ralph Gibson, Italy 1980

Sardinia by Ralph Gibson, Italy 1980

Ralph is a big time lover of underexposing the scene and over-developing the film negative in the darkroom, a technique that brings up grain and contrast in the case of silver-gelatin film emulsions. Besides the technicalities, this photograph by Ralph Gibson masterfully unites the aesthetic constants of the artist’s oeuvre in a composition of cool glamour. In biology, “tropism” indicates the turning towards a specific stimulus, and as in the plant world, for Gibson this stimulus was usually light and shade. It was no coincidence that Aperture folks selected the present motif as the cover image for its Gibson monograph published in 1987 and entitled Tropism.

Here, it falls on the face of a sunbather on an unspecified beach; in order to shield her eyes from the bright glare, she has covered them with a piece of fabric. Gibson, of course, undercuts this narrative interpretation by dissolving his subject almost entirely within a perfectly balanced, planar arrangement of harsh black and-white contrasts and minute shades of grey, in any.

The female body, one of Gibson’s recurring themes (like it make any difference), becomes a graphic cipher by being presented in this cropped form. The picture’s erotic attraction lies less in its subject than in its almost libidinous fixation on surfaces – each of which is rendered in the same painstaking detail, no matter whether it is naked skin or the metal of the bracelet. The photograph is effective not as a narrative representation of a point in the past, but as a timeless, autonomous creation. This applies to any photograph.


  1. Ralph Gibson, Tropism, New York 1987 (Aperture), cover and p. 83; Ralph Gibson.
  2. Women, cat. Boca Raton Museum of Art, Boca Raton 1993, p. 13;
  3. Ralph Gibson, Refractions. Thoughts on aestetics and photography, Göttingen 2006, p. 12.

Photo credit: © WestLicht Photographica Auction