Portfolio: Gilles Peress

From the project "Power in the Blood" - Photo by Gilles Peress

From the project "Power in the Blood" - Photo by Gilles Peress

  Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 1984

Power in the Blood

I remember the beginning of the march, when it left the Creggan Estate–I think Martin McGuinness was speaking to people. The march proceeded down the hill from the Creggan to the Bogside. By the time it reached William Street, I was at the head of it to shoot the picture of the marchers coming down William Street, the traditional shot.

The paratroopers had established two barricades. the first, I believe, was at Agro Corner, on James Street before it crosses William Street. The other barricade was at the bottom of William Street halfway between Chamberlain Street and Waterloo Road. What I find is that for the last thirty years the lines of confrontation have remained in those particular spots, and over that time I don’t think they have moved more than ten yards. As the march passed on towards Free Derry Corner, a mini-riot started. By the time the army brought out its water cannon, things had begun to cool down: I have this picture of the crowd sitting down on the pavement at the corner of William Street and Chamberlain Street under a rain of purple dye–well, some of them were sitting down! One of the young people sitting down in protest was killed moments later. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, from James Street across William Street, I saw the first Paras [members of the First Battalion of the Parachute Regiment] in their Saracens move towards Free Derry Corner, towards the Rossville Flats. Then the shooting started. then everybody started running….

I’m trying to remember my emotions–I know that at one point I was shooting and crying at the same time. I think it must’ve been when I saw Barney McGuigan dead. By the time I had reached him, people were still huddling by the telephone box, protecting themselves from the shooting. He was alone. Then a priest [Father Tom O’Hara] arrived and started to give him the Last Rites. I remember taking a few pictures then. I remember I was crying as I was doing it. I remember that I didn’t want to intrude too much, but that at the same time I felt this obligation to shoot, to document. It is always the same f***ed-up situation: you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t….

This was the first time I saw what a real war weapon can do. I mean the destruction, the impact of it. Up until then, I thought that bullets killed you but they would kill you kind of neatly. You understand what I’m saying? This was the first time I realized the terrible destruction that those things create.

Gilles Peress

Magnum photographer Gilles Peress remembers his first professional photo assignment, covering the civil rights marches in Derry:
Born December 29, 1946, France. Institut d’Etudes Politiques, 1966-1968, and Universite de Vincennes, 1968-1971. Joined Magnum Photos as an associate in 1972, became a member in 1974. Vice President 1984-85; President 1986-87, 1989-90. Represented by Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Gilles Peress is the recipient of many awards including 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 began working as a photographer in 1970, embarking on an intimate portrayal of life in a French coal mining village as it emerged from the ashes of a debilitating labor dispute. He then joined Magnum Photos, the prestigious photography agency founded by Robert Capa.

Peress soon traveled to Northern Ireland to begin an ongoing 20-year project about the Irish civil rights struggle. “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 a 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.

Gilles Peress received the 1984 W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund grant to continue his work documenting the life and the conflict that surrounds it in Northern Ireland. Since 1971, the French-born, New York-based photographer has been going to Belfast, mostly on his own initiative, to photograph its cycles of violence and quiet. His books include “Telex: Iran,” “Farewell to Bosnia” and “The Silence.

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