Raymond Depardon, a self-portrait of the photographer as a young man, age fifteen, in 1957 in Villefranche-sur-Saône, the town where he was born. He has been traveling ever since.


Three years ago, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain sent Raymond Depardon around the world to make short films and take photographs in twelve cities: Addis Ababa, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Dubai, Johannesburg, Moscow, New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, Shanghai, and Tokyo. Selections of Depardon’s visual travelogue have since been exhibited in Paris, Tokyo, and Berlin, where his publisher Steidl gave the entire project permanent form in a book: Villes/Cities/Städte. Depardon, who has been traveling and photographing the world for half a century and has directed more than three dozen documentary films, is recognized in Europe as one of the great seers of our time. Although he is not as well known in the United States, his work is more closely associated with the personal, subjective manner of American masters like Walker Evans or Robert Frank than with the “decisive moment” school of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The pictures in the following pages are photojournalism not in the conventional sense of news reporting but rather in the sense of keeping a journal.

“I enjoyed wandering about and losing myself in these foreign cities,” Depardon says. “I would seek cover amid the throngs of people in the busy streets of these big metropolises. For a few hours, a few days, I was an inhabitant, a special kind of local. I remained a foreigner, but I was adopted and protected by the crowd. I have always liked being invisible, disappearing as soon as I’m noticed and slipping unobserved from one street to the next without trying to hide.”

Speaking of the films he shot simultaneously with these photographs, Depardon has said, “In these cities, there is a quest. Perhaps for the ideal city, for the ideal moment. The idea was to detach myself from my experience as a ‘picture-taking professional,’ as if I were using my camera for the first time. Do whatever I want. Forget what’s happening, let go. With great freedom. Usually, you’re supposed to have a reason to film. I have no reason to film, just a motivation, an urge, a desire.”