The Genius of Olivier Richon

Olivier Richon. Nikon

"There are different forms of signification. I think all art is intentional even if it’s seeking a chance because that’s my intentions, to use chance… There is no art that is not intentional, in a very broad way." - Olivier Richon.

In a youtube interview with Richon by the intentismmovement. Richon highlights the gaps between the photograph’s Intention, Realisation and Interpretation.

He discusses the merits of having a context when exhibiting the photographer's work and not having any context at all, catering to viewers who prefer not to have ‘none of it’. Richon suggests that the meaning of one’s work is not fixed without its intended context. The professor goes on to explain the judgements a photographer must make in defining their work and understanding its reading, interpretation, filtering through every possible narrative that potential viewers can conjure up in opposition to what the image-maker has intended.

During the interview, Richon describes the prejudices the beholder may have when viewing the image.

“What if you see an image as a text? It’s quite a provocative thing to suggest... I think artists can learn a lot from literary theory."

Olivier Richon is one of the most important photographers of our time, and he's important because he extracts us from one world and leaves in layers of another world, yet despite this enormous feet, he's not enormously well known outside the intellectual academia of photography. A serious misfortune, for Richon's genius lies not only in his ability to connect with learned minds but more significantly, his ability to connect with all minds. Richon does not belong in galleries and museums; he belongs in everyone's home, like Bernini's David, Richon's work Real Allegories is filled with psychological intensity, yet it has the balance, poise, calmness and idealised presence of Michelangelo's David.

Figure 1: Richon 2008. Portrait of a Monkey with Fruit.


Richon's book Real Allegories contains portraits of animals, fruits and objects interacting with each other, and sometimes alone. Richon's use of objects as representations that we can relate to differently is at the heart of his genius. Regardless of a person's profession, the location of birth, age or gender, anyone can relate to Richon's Real Allegories. His images force us to return to our formative years, to seek out the truth about what we see, to look beyond the visible layers of construct and take them apart. As we deconstruct Real Allegories, we are simultaneously deconstructing ourselves.

Figure 2: Richon 2004. Still life with Saint Augustine

The more we ponder the images in the book, more is discovered about the nature of our characters, who we are. It's a rather profound thing. In a society where there is barely enough time to search the soul, Richon not only wittingly takes us to its core, he reveals to us what we already know, but have failed to analyse and adequately contextualise. Richon is a mediator between the present world in which we live and our past and future worlds.

Figure 3: Richon 2005. Meditation on Hunting.

Like a history teacher, he shows us the complex world of the past in its simplest forms. We can decipher it, step by step, layer by layer, until there is nothing left but a return to the tabula rasa. And as we return to this blank slate, we can then construct the visible now around us, step by step, layer by layer. And as we create this present state, we become acutely aware of the conscious mind, now truly conscious to all that has occurred, all that is occurring and what may occur. The familiar casualness and calmness in which Richon extracts us from our present state and take us to this journey of renewal remain unrivalled by any photographer. Richon’s photography embodies all of its potentials, to educate, to heal, to destroy and to rebuild universes of old and new, where we all can find comfort and contentment. The freedom to rebuild the very concept of knowledge, to view the image differently and know that the person next to you shares an opposite view, and be content with your view and know the other person is just as content with their view, gives us a method of communication that despite its controversial subject matter, we will remain at peace.

Figure 4: Baptiste 2017. Aletheia. Richon

Figure 6: Baptiste 2017. Arrival Figure 7: Baptiste 2017. Figure 8: Richon 2012. Spiritual Exercise.

The Pillars that held Four


Richon was born in 1956 in Lausanne, the French speaking part of Switzerland. While in Geneva, Richon studied French literature and art history at the Geneva University, but it was his love of photography that propelled him to explore the subject at a professional level. He, later on, graduated from the Polytechnic of Central London in 1980 with a BA (Hons) in Film and Photographic Arts and a Masters of Philosophy in 1988. In 1997 Richon became head of the photography department at the Royal College of Art and in 2006 he became Professor of Photography.

His work has been exhibited world wide since 1980. His work can be found in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Arts Council of England; Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris; Museum Folkwang, Essen; National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; Brooklyn Museum, New York; National Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Weltkulturen Museum , Frankfurt; Tate Britain, London; Fondazione Fotografia, Modena. (


ARKETTE, SOPHIE. 2009. "Olivier Richon | Anima(l)". Studio International, [online], 2009. Available at: [accessed 10 July 2017].

INTENTISMMOVEMENT. 2013. Intentist interview with Professor Olivier Richon RCA [video]. Available at: [accessed 4 July 2017].

KULAKOVA, KRIS. 2015. "Artist Olivier Richon | Interview". #viennacontemporary Magazine[online]. Available at: [accessed 10 July 2017].

Olivier Richon. 2017. [online]. Available at: [accessed 1 July 2017].

WANG, SUE. 2011. "Olivier Richon and His Thinking about Fetish, Relic and Memory–Photo Gallery | CAFA ART INFO". [online]. Available at: [accessed 6 July 2017].


NIKON. 2017. [image]. Available at: [accessed 17 August 2017].

Figure 1. RICHON, OLIVIER. 2008. Portrait of a Monkey with Fruit. [C-type photograph].

Figure 2: RICHON, OLIVIER. 2004. Still life with Saint Augustine [C-type photograph].

Figure 3. RICHON, OLIVIER. 2005. Meditation on Hunting [c-type print].

Figure 4. BAPTISTE, MANDISA. 2017. Aletheia.

Figure 5. RICHON, OLIVIER. 2005. Meditation on Hunting [c-type print].

Figure 6. BAPTISTE, MANDISA. 2017. Arrival.

Figure 7. BAPTISTE, MANDISA. 2017. The Pillars that held Four.

Figure 8. RICHON, OLIVIER. 2008. Spiritual Exercise. [c-type print].

#OlivierRichon #RealAllegories

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