Gilles Peress has been waiting for thirty years for the great work of the North Irish conflict between Catholics and Protestants, Republicans and Loyalists (1969-1998), with Great Britain as a partial arbiter. Here it is finally published, and let’s say that the photographer, one of the most innovative in the world, does not do things by halves. Three books, 2000 pages, 14 kg. Two photo albums, in black and white and almost without words (Whatever You Say, Say Nothing), the third compiling various materials, images and texts, to contextualize his project (Annals of the North).
The set aims not to tell a story but to make one feel an identity, religious and social theater, a tragedy which we sometimes only remember on January 30, 1972, in Derry, date of Bloody Sunday. Fourteen dead, as many injured during a Catholic march for civil rights. Peress is. He is 26 years old.
He will come back on multiple occasions, during the 1980s, in “A province that you cross in barely 1 hour 30 minutes by car”. We joined him in New York, where he resides, to discuss his relationship to the conflict in “The North of Ireland”, as he says, and not in Northern Ireland. Do not see it as an activist posture. Peress merges with the 1.5 million inhabitants, divided into two roughly equal communities, and he only sees what brings them together: “They look alike but see themselves as different, prisoners of a political system. “
On the street corners in Belfast
To take the measure, he wants to adopt the gaze of the visitor freed from prejudices. He walks, stops, chats, makes friends, goes to the pub. “I am not a journalist, not a reporter, not a photojournalist, not an artist. I refuse these labels which induce a sovereign language. “
He is often posted on street corners, in Belfast, where faces meet, in front of small buildings unmarked by brick, inhabited by two camps that clash from one block to the other. It is difficult to know, turning the pages without captions, what is going on. Except that the tension is extreme in the dislocated cityscape – evidenced by this inert man, bathed in his blood. The reader perceives religion everywhere. Rich and poor, uniforms and bowler hats. But he does not know who is leading the charge, who is the victim. “No matter, answers Gilles Peress. Me too, at first, I don’t know. I go to meet them with extreme caution, performing a dance of few words. “
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