Martin Karplus:The World of the 50's (at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France)

Martin Karplus is an American scientist and a pioneer in the application of nuclear magnetic resonance to chemistry. He developed what is now known as the Karplus Equation. He is also known for the introduction of molecular dynamics simulations of proteins, a technique now used world-wide in fundamental research and drug design.

He travelled extensively throughout the world in the 50’s and 60’s with his Leica and made thousands of color photographs on early Kodachrome slide film. A hundred or so of these photographs that were scanned are exhibited through mid-August at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris in an exhibition entitled “The Color of the 50’s.”

Thoughout these travels, he recorded a world which no longer exists.  Economic development, universal communication, and war have taken a heavy toll:  Many of the towns and villages have been destroyed or replaced, everyday costumes of the time are at best worn at events for tourists, and much of the social fabric of the communities has been destroyed. “Many of the people I photographed belonged to the last generation to live in a way that had existed for centuries.  Each area I visited in Europe and America had its own traditions that have now disappeared as the world has been homogenized.” 

Perhaps it is the use of color at a time when it was less widely used and Kodachrome had recently been introduced that gives these images an almost unexpectly vivid and immediate quality. Unexpected because while some 60 years have passed, we are right there. But then we look at the images and see the distance between the photographer and the subjects and between our world and the world shown.

Martin Karplus on his work: “To record many of these images, particularly those of people, I used a Hector long focus lens.  Its reflex viewer made possible recording an image while facing away from the subject.  This permitted me to take close-ups of individuals and crowds without their being cognizant of what I was doing.  It is only recently that I learned that Paul Strand and Walker Evans used the same stratagem in the early 1920 to obtain some of their famous black-&-white images.”

In 2005 he replaced the Leica IIIC with a Canon EOS 20D. “Working with a digital camera has led me to approach photography in a new way. I continue to focus on disappearing cultures and have developed exhibitions based on trips to China and India.”

Please visit his website,


comments powered by Disqus