About the Photographer
French, b. 1946
Arguably, the allure of photojournalism is its ability to satisfy our hunger for events we would otherwise not see. With his documents of revolution, war, and rebellion from around the world, Gilles Peress presents an unflinching view of such events. In 1972, shortly after joining the Magnum photo agency, Peress traveled to Northern Ireland to begin an ongoing project about the Irish political scene and struggles with England, a project that would last more than 20 years. The tension apparent in Bloody Sunday, One Minute before British Paratroop Fires is created through the dynamics of the crowd and augmented by a title that leaves no doubt as to this image's violent content. The paratroopers opened fire on Catholics rioting in Londonderry that January 30, 1972, and killed 13 people. With this project and his other work, Peress documents revolution, intolerance, and nationalism in various parts of the world. During the 1970s and 80s, Peress photographed political struggles in Bosnia, Iran, and Rwanda in addition to Northern Ireland, making black-and-white photographs that offer an uncompromising view of turbulent and emotionally powerful events. The angry, empty, and accusing eyes of the children in 1974's "Sons and Daughters of the Interned, Dunville Park, Belfast" exemplifies Peress' visually gripping style.
His work in Iran was made during the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran. Those pictures were later published as Telex Iran: In the Name of Revolution (which featured "Pro-Shariatmadari Demonstrations, Tabri Z" as the cover photograph and printed within on a two-page spread), but at the time Peress had some trouble finding a news source that was both interested and wouldn't caption and edit his pictures to meet its own agenda. Peress is very conscientious of his role as a photographer and as a documentarian. As he says, "These photographs, made during a five-week period from December 1979 to January 1980, do not represent a complete picture of Iran or a final record of that time." They do, however, offer a wide-ranging and complex account of a place under great stress, as encountered by a Western photographer mindful of the preconceptions he carries with him and steeped in the conflicts within nations. This particular picture was taken in Tabriz in front of the headquarters of Ayatollah Shariatmadari's supporters. A few hours later, the headquarters were overrun by Revolutionary Guards. Shariatmadari, a religious leader of both Azerbaijan and Turkemanestan, was put under house arrest and died some months later in the holy city of Qom.
Born on December 29, 1946 in Neuilly, France, Gilles Peress studied at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques (1966-1968), and the Université de Vincennes (1968-1971) before joining Magnum Photos as an associate in 1972. He was promoted to member in 1974, Vice President in 1984, and President in 1986. In addition to the W. Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography (1984), Peress is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation (1992-3), La Fondation de France (1993), and the National Endowment for the Arts (1979, 1984, 1993). Peress's work has been presented at the Adaku Grand Gallery, Tokyo; Alternative Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; Burden Gallery, Aperture Foundation, New York; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York; Lillehammer Art Museum, Norway; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; and Palais de Luxembourg, Paris. His photographs are in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago; Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris; Vicoria and Albert Museum, London; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Houston Museum of Fine Arts; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Museum of Contemporary Photography exhibited his work in 1987.