As photographers go, Gilles Peress is one of the most recognized. His career as a photojournalist has brought him to the center of conflict recording the horrors of war and life for those in the midst of it.
In the Beginning
Born in Neuilly,France, Peress grew up in Paris. He studied at the Institute d’Etudes Politiques in Paris from 1966-1968 and then at the University of Vincennes until 1971. Peress began working as a photographer in 1970, his first recognized project was one portraying life in a French coal mining village.
His Career Takes Off
Peress joined Magnum Photos traveling around the world to pursue his passion. He traveled to Northern Ireland to start work on a project about the Irish civil rights struggle. His photos were often poignant accounts of human struggles. One of his most well known photos portrays a young man named Patrick Doherty moments before his death, attempting to crawl to safety in the forecourt of the Rossville flats during Bloody Sunday.
He went on to document strife in Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Iran. His photos have appeared in various publications including the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and Geo. During his career with Magnum he would serve three times as its vice president and twice as its president.
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 and strained relationship between American and Iranian cultures during the hostage crisis. The American Embassy in Teheran, Iran had been seized by Islamic fundamentalists and 52 people were held hostage. Peress traveled Iran for five weeks during the “hostage crisis,” taking pictures to understand a country and a people who were portrayed in the United States media as fanatics.
Peress went on to cover areas around the world that were in the midst of war and strife. In 1994 he published his book entitled The Silence , which was about the genocide that took place in Rwanda in spring and summer of 1994. In addition to this book he also produced books on Iran and Bosnia.
When asked why he took the kind of photographs he did Peress answered, “I'm gathering evidence for history, so that we remember.” He has often said that he considers himself more of a forensic photographer collecting evidence much as a detective would.
Among his many honors are fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, La Fondation de France, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He also received the W. Eugene Smith Award for Humanistic Photography.
Peress is currently a 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.
The New York Times Gilles Peress
Luminous Lint/Gilles Peress