“Melody is to music as reality is to photography.”

This statement forms the essence of Ralph Gibson’s 2004 book, Light Strings. Depicting musical instruments during their construction and after completion, Light Strings reflects Gibson’s passion for music and embodies his artistic style. A guitarist and photographer, Ralph Gibson draws parallels between music and photography; he argues that “sonic volume creates musical space in much the same way that perspective creates an illusion of three-dimensionality.”

Contrasts of light and dark compose his photographs, which often focus on a small detail or repeating geometric pattern. Much as a musician can stretch the boundaries of melody in music, Gibson stretches our perception of reality through his nearly abstract compositions.

Born in Los Angeles California in 1939, Ralph Gibson studied photography in the U.S. Navy between 1956 and 1960. Following his discharge, he was an assistant to Robert Frank and Dorothea Lange before studying at the San Francisco Art Institute. The Somnambulist, his first major book, was published in 1970 and was followed by Déjà vu and“Days at Sea. These books compose his groundbreaking surrealist trilogy and have sold more than 45,000 copies.

Gibson is considered one of the most influential photographers working in America since the 1970s. He has received three National Endowment of the Arts Fellowships and was awarded the Officier de L’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres de France.

These photographs were donated to the Carleton College Art Collection by Arthur D. Kowaloff, ’68. The Art Collection currently contains over 800 photographic works, almost all of which were contributed by Kowaloff. Of those gifts, almost half are by Ralph Gibson.

Description and image selection by Spencer Wigmore ’11