7 Lessons Gilles Peress Has Taught Me about Photography, Life, and Composition

Gilles Peress: a photographer who I admire. He shoots with his heart, and seeks to use his photography as a tool to enact positive change in the world. Not only that, but his compositions are magical.

1. Gather evidence for history

I don’t care so much anymore about ‘good photography’, I am gathering evidence for history. – Gilles Peress

2. Shoot more like a forensic, police photographer.

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

3. Provide a visual continuum of experience and existence

I set out only a provide a visual continuum of experience, of existence. – Gilles Peress

4. Let the viewer come up with their own story about your photos

I don’t like to describe my photographs; it’s up to the viewer to make up his mind what they are about. – Gilles Peress

5. No categories

I always try to escape categories because where those categories are attached, predictable forms, they really have very much to do with market, or where to market the pictures. I’m interested in what’s unpredictable, and I’m interested in what happens in the no-man’s-land between known categories. – Gilles Peress

6. Photography is creating a visual diary

Every picture I take is like a diary entry. – Gilles Peress

7. Make meaningful photos to show to the world

When I shoot a picture of somebody who’s really seriously hurt, there’s an unspoken exchange. Even if I could speak the language, I could not formulate the question, which is: “Can I take your picture?” In that situation, taking a photograph for the sake of taking a photograph is very trivial. The challenge is finding the language to say, “Can I take your picture in a way that is meaningful?” You don’t do it with words. You do it with the eyes. You’re present there with them and they know that you have a question to ask. They read your body language and they decide whether to show themselves or to hide, whether they want to be photographed. They answer with their own unspoken language. I mean, you see it right away. You can feel it right away. It’s in the eyes, and they tell you, “Yes, I want you to show this to the world.” – Gilles Peress

Gilles Peress Composiitons

Composition 1: Boy at demonstration

Composition 2:

Composition 3:

Composition 4:

Composition 5:

Composition 6:

Composition 7:

Composition 8 (arabesque/curve):

Composition 9 arabesque:

Composition 9:


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Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
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