Gilles Peress

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Gilles Peress (born 1946) began working with photography in 1970, having previously studied political science and philosophy in Paris. One of Peress’ first projects examined immigration in Europe, and he has since documented events in Northern Ireland, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, the Balkans, Rwanda, the U.S., Afghanistan and Iraq. His ongoing project, Hate Thy Brother, is a cycle of documentary narratives that looks at intolerance and the re-emergence of nationalism throughout the world and its consequences.

Peress’ books include Telex Iran; The Silence: Rwanda; Farewell to Bosnia; The Graves: Srebrenica and Vukovar; A Village Destroyed; and Haines. Portfolios of his work have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Times Magazine, Du magazine, Life, Stern, Geo, Paris-Match, Parkett, Aperture and The New Yorker.

Peress’ work has been exhibited and is collected by institutions including: the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, PS1, all in New York; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; the Getty Museum in Los Angeles; the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; the V&A in London; the Musée d'Art Moderne, the Picasso Museum, Parc de la Villette and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Museum Folkwang, Essen; the Sprengel Museum in Hannover, and others.

Awards and fellowships Peress has received include: The Guggenheim Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts grants, Pollock-Krasner and New York State Council of the Arts fellowships, the W. Eugene Smith Grant for Humanistic Photography and the International Center of Photography Infinity Award.

Peress is Professor of Human Rights and Photography at Bard College in NY and is Senior Research Fellow at the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley. Peress joined Magnum Photos in 1971 and served three times as vice president and twice as president of the co-operative. He and his wife, Alison Cornyn, live in Brooklyn with their three children.

"Over the past four decades, in one ambitious project after another, Gilles Peress has creatively transformed and reinvigorated photography’s tradition of engaged reportage. Perhaps the most ambitious and sustained of all of those projects is his richly textured and deeply moving visual essay on two decades of bitter conflict that devastated Northern Ireland in the wake of Bloody Sunday in 1972. That extended essay has the gripping immediacy and epic sweep of a novel by Tolstoy."

-Peter Galassi, Chief Curator, Department of Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

For Peress, photography is a way to think about the world. His photographs seem to be arguments with and about what he is seeing rather than documentations of it. Peress’s philosophical background, with its reverence for critical inquiry, seeps into, even defines, his images. As David Rieff observed, “Peress’ photographs are exercises of mind as much as of sensibility. Looking at his pictures, one often has the sense that, if the occasion seemed to call for it, he would put down his camera and write or make a film.” Peress’s pictures are often hard to decipher, but they are never about the absence of reality. His subject is more complex: the difficulty of finding, conveying, and, most of all, making meaning from reality.

His genius has been to accomplish just what the post-moderns couldn’t: to incorporate a critique of photography’s objectivity into that obstinate bit of bourgeois folklore formerly known as truth. He embraces postmodern skepticism, but uses it to enlarge photographic possibilities rather than to discredit the medium. Peress has taken the alienated sensibility typical of, and prized by, modern photographers and fused it to a passionate engagement with the world outside himself. Like a good psychoanalyst, he knows that reality is fluid, contested, indeterminate. But a good analyst also knows that though diverse viewpoints complicate actuality, they can’t unmake it. Peress’s photographs reject the transparent, positivistic realism subscribed to by some earlier photographers and critics, but they never veer into the moral, political, or epistemological relativism on which so many postmoderns insist. Peress doesn’t live in Baudrillard’s world; he knows, as did Capa, that we human beings are trapped in reality.

- from The Cruel Radiance: Photography and Political Violence by Susie Linfield


Peress grew up in Paris with his mother, an orthodox Christian from the Middle East, and his father, who was of Jewish and Georgian descent. Peress studied at the Institute d'Etudes Politiques in Paris from 1966 to 1968 and then at the University of Vincennes until 1971. Peress began working as a photographer in 1970, embarking on an intimate portrayal of life in a French village, Decazeville, as it emerged from the ashes of a debilitating labor dispute. In 1973 he photographed Turkish immigrant workers in West Germany and documented the European policy to import cheap labor from the third world. "Peress has worked as a journalist to help finance those projects that constitute his personal search—a search to understand his own history."[1] He then joined Magnum Photos.

Peress soon traveled to Northern Ireland to begin an ongoing 20-year project about the Irish civil rights struggle. One of his most famous pictures from this period captures a young man named Patrick Doherty moments before he was killed whilst crawling to safety in the forecourt of the Rossville flats during Bloody Sunday.

Power in the Blood, a book that synthesizes his years of work in Northern Ireland, is the third part of his ongoing project called Hate Thy Brother, a cycle of documentary stories that describe intolerance and the re-emergence of nationalism in the postwar years. Farewell to Bosnia was the first part of this cycle, and The Silence, a book about the genocide in Rwanda, was the second.

In 1979 Peress traveled to Iran in the midst of the Revolution. His highly regarded book, Telex Iran: In the Name of Revolution, is about the fragile relationship between American and Iranian cultures during the hostage crisis. Peress has also completed other major projects, including a photographic study of the lives of Turkish immigrant workers in Germany, and a recent examination of the contemporary legacy of the Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar.

Peress participated in the photography collective This Place, organized by photographer Frédéric Brenner. For his project, Peress focused on the village of Silwan, where there are frequent violent clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, and used large format cameras to document his experience.[2]


  • 2002, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant
  • 2002, New York State Council on the Arts, Individual Artists Project Grant
  • 2002, Cornell Capa Award (ICP Infinity Awards): Here is New York: a democracy of photographs
  • 2002, Brendan Gill Prize: Here is New York: a democracy of photographs exhibition
  • 2000, Mosaique Programme Grant, “Difference/Indifference” Centre National de L’Audiovisuel, Luxembourg
  • 2000, Overseas Press Club: 1999 Olivier Rebbot Award, “Exile and Return”, The New Yorker
  • 2000, Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards: Journalistic Impact – Photo Essay, “Exile and Return”, The New Yorker
  • 1999, Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards: Eyewitness Photo and Journalistic Impact
  • 1997, Art Director’s Club Award for NY Times Web site design: Bosnia: Uncertain Paths to Peace
  • 1997, Open Society Institute’s Individual Project Fellowship: Hate Thy Brother
  • 1996, International Center of Photography Infinity Award
  • 1995, Erich Solomon Prize
  • 1995, Camera Works, Inc. Artist Grant
  • 1994, International Center of Photography Infinity Award
  • 1993, La Fondation de France Fellowship
  • 1992/93, Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
  • 1992, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1990, Art Matters Grant
  • 1989, Ernst Haas Award
  • 1989, Art Director's Club Award
  • 1986, Gahan Fellowship at Harvard University
  • 1984, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
  • 1984, W. Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography
  • 1983, Fondation Nationale pour la Photographie
  • 1983, Imogen Cunningham Award
  • 1981, Prix de la Critique Couleur
  • 1981, Prix du Premier Livre/Foundation Kodak Pathe
  • 1981, Overseas Press Club Award
  • 1981, Art Director's Club Award
  • 1981, American Institute of Graphic Arts Award
  • 1979, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1977, Apeiron: Artist in Residence



  • "The Rockaways" - Concord Free Press, 2013, 94 color photographs. Photographs by Gilles Peress, edited with an introduction by Hamilton Fish. ISBN 978-0-9847078-8-1
  • "Haines, Photo Poche" - Actes Sud, 2004, 94 black & white photographs. Photographs and text by Gilles Peress. ISBN 2-7427-5355-9
  • "A Village Destroyed", UC Press, 2002, 251 pages. Photographs by Gilles Peress, with text by Eric Stover and Fred Abrahams. ISBN 0-520-23303-4
  • "Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs", Scalo, 2002, 864 pages. Photography collective. Photo editing, sequencing, and design by Gilles Peress. ISBN 3-908-247-66-7
  • The Graves: Srebrenica and Vukovar, with Eric Stover. Switzerland/USA/Germany Scalo, 1998. ISBN 978-3-931141-76-9
  • The Silence. Rwanda, Switzerland/USA/Germany: Scalo, 1995. ISBN 978-1-881616-38-2
  • Farewell to Bosnia, Switzerland: Scalo, USA: Distributed Art Publications, 1994. ISBN 978-1-881616-22-1
  • Eye for an Eye, USA: Aperture, 1988.
  • Telex Persan, with Gholam Hassan Saedi. France: Contrejour, 1984; Telex Iran, USA: Aperture, 1984, ISBN 978-0-89381-118-1; Switzerland: Scalo, 1997, ISBN 978-3-931141-36-3


  • 1994, Farewell to Bosnia (video essay)
  • 1992, A Peruvian Equation (part of the series “The Magnum Eye”, made for TV Tokyo)
  • 1992, Street Musicians (filmed in NY for M. & Co. Agency, for Benetton)



New Media[edit]

Group Projects[edit]

  • Postcards From America (Florida) with Magnum Photos
  • Access To Life, The Global Fund to fight AIDS with Magnum Photos
  • “Here is New York: A Democracy of Photographs” Exhibition Co-founder, 2001, Concept Gilles Peress
  • Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, WW Norton, 1999, Edited by Roy Gutman and David Rieff, Concept and Design Concept by Gilles Peress
  • Crimes of War Project, Co-founder and member of the Board of Directors, 1998 to 2008



  1. ^ Kismaric, Carole. [1] "Gilles Perress" BOMB Magazine Spring 1997, Retrieved 12 June 2012
  2. ^ Hodges, Michael. "Snapshots of Israel". The Financial Times. The Financial Times. Retrieved 13 June 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Magnum Photos biography