Who The Heck Is Ralph Gibson?
Before answering my own suspiciously convenient rhetorical question, I should explain how this query arose: I saw the above photo posted, among other shots of Leonard Cohen, somewhere online without any identification of the subjects, the photographer, the location, the date, the occasion, … Now, Leonard Cohen is photographed with lots of folks in whom the typical viewer would have little interest (e.g., fans, restaurant staff, minor politicians, and the occasional blogger). This photo, however, seemed to carry more significance than would a casual snapshot of one more anonymous well-wisher or someone hoping to snag an autograph to sell on eBay.
With a modicum of research, I was able to identify the figure on the right as Ralph Gibson and the photographer as Yvette Troispoux.1 Of course, as a card-carrying Philistine, I still had no idea who Ralph Gibson was or why Leonard Cohen was pictured with him
Ralph Gibson is …
best known, in the words of Wikipedia, as “an American art photographer.” From my reading, he, in fact, appears to fall into the category of well-known and much respected by his peers but misses the cut for the photographer-rock star classification (aka photographers recognized by the general public). A generous sampling of his work can be found at his web site.
Leonard Cohen – Ralph Gibson Connections
One connection between Ralph Gibson and Leonard Cohen is that in the late 1960s, both artists were residents of the Chelsea Hotel, where Gibson printed “his photographs for The Somnambulist, his first Lustrum photography book in his tiny kitchenette.”2
Another link is that Leonard Cohen and Ralph Gibson, along with John Cage, Allen Ginsberg, and others provided financial and editorial support for a “critically-acclaimed literary journal, Zero.”3
Finally, it turns out that Ralph Gibson worked on a project for Leonard Cohen. Specifically, Ralph Gibson played guitar on Leonard Cohen’s New Skin For The Old Ceremony album and is correspondingly credited for his efforts.
One source4 indicates Gibson also toured with Cohen, but I can’t find independent confirmation of that.
One might presume that a big time photographer who knew and performed with Leonard Cohen would have taken batches of photos of the Canadian singer-songwriter. At time of posting, however, I found no photos of Leonard Cohen by Ralph Gibson online and only one such shot, “Leonard Cohen, Montreal, 1973 [on bed with guitar]” listed in a catalog of Gibson’s work.
Credit Due Department: The art from New Skin For The Old Ceremony album showing the credits was contributed by Dominique BOILE.