Gilles Peress (born 1946) is an internationally renowned French photojournalist known for his documentation of war and strife, including in Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Iran, and Rwanda. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Du magazine, Life, Stern, Geo, Paris-Match, Parkett, Aperture and The New Yorker. He joined Magnum Photos in 1971 and served three times as its vice president and twice as its president.
"I work much more like a forensic photographer in a certain way, collecting evidence. I've started to take more still lifes, like a police photographer, collecting evidence as a witness. I've started to borrow a different strategy than that of the classic photojournalist. The work is much more factual and much less about good photography. I don't care that much anymore about "good photography." I'm gathering evidence for history, so that we remember"
– Gilles Peress
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Born in France, Peress grew up in Paris with an orthodox Christian mother from the Middle East and a Jewish grandfather from Georgia. 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." 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 first 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.
Now, Peress is professor of Human Rights and Photography at Bard College in New York and is Senior Research Fellow at UC Berkeley. He lives with his wife Alison Cornyn and their three children in Brooklyn.
- 1996, International Center of Photography Infinity Award
- 1995, Erich Solomon Prize
- 1995, Camera Works
- 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 Graves: Srebrenica and Vukovar, with Eric Stover. Switzerland/USA/GermanyScalo, 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)
- Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois
- Arts Council of Great Britain, London, UK
- Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris, France
- First Bank of Minnesota
- Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Fondation Leitz, Rueil-Malmaison, France
- Fondation Nationale pour la Photographie, Paris, France
- International Museum of Photography, Rochester, New York
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
- Minneapolis Institute of Art, Minnesota
- Galerie du Château d'Eau, Toulouse, France
- Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France
- Museum of the Moving Image, New York, France
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- Museum of Modern Art, New York
- New York Historical Society