When I left for Asia in the autumn of 1955, driving George Rodger’s old Land Rover, I had already been a photographer for nearly two years, and in a certain manner the threshold was already crossed, the die was already cast: I had broken free of those years of wandering when, as a young engineer, I moved from one internship to another, from one company to another, never finding my footing despite the efforts of my family, who no longer knew what to do with me… On the affectionate advice of Robert Capa, I had spent a year in England, and I had joined the Magnum photo agency. Yet I had an intuition that I absolutely must go much farther away, leave not only my family but also Europe, its habits of thought, its culture, and discover the enormous East, where the world is on a different scale and where I could roam from Istanbul to Shanghai, free to linger wherever I wanted, master of my own rhythm, my stops, my itinerary. Free, truly free.
Outside the cities, I was on the road and alone. I was content to be alone - the solitude spared me the habits and constraints of home in France, and it left me open to the landscapes and faces of those lands that had fecundated India, Central Asia, China and Hellenistic Iran. “Seeing is the paradise of the soul,” some pope had said in the fourteenth century. What was true in his native Tuscany was true as well in the Orient, and the farther I went, the better I saw the harmony of those curves, those full round shapes, sensual and blooming, that burst forth everywhere in the East. Travel and the letters, solitude and counsel, the lessons of the East and of the Elder, rules that endure and those that disappear, the flow of days and the accreditation of time, made me a photographer. Now, the shadows grow long, the steps are slower, but leafing through these pages I feel almost unchanged the longing, the will, to go and see. See.
Marc Riboud, with Catherine Chaine
Translated by Linda Asher