ICP LECTURE & BOOK REVIEW: Jean-Pierre Laffont’s Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990
Image Above: The book cover for "Photographer's Paradise" by Jean-Pierre Laffont; Jean-Pierre Laffont who was documenting a demonstration near the Washington Monument. Washington, D.C. May 9, 1970, © JP Laffont
“When I arrived in New York, it was glorious and beautiful, and it was also a disaster,” Jean-Pierre Laffont reflected, “First of all, there was no garbage disposal, and the streets looked like this,” pointing to brownstones littered with trash, “I immediately started to photograph.”
On the 12th of November, Jean-Pierre Laffont, as part of the lecture series held by the International Center of Photography, had an evening in conversation with Michele McNally, the Assistant Managing Editor of The New York Times, about his latest photo book, Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990, published by Glitterati Inc.
Starting at 7pm, the talk lasted an hour and a half, with Alison Morley, the chairperson for the Documentary Photography and Photojournalism Program, and Ms McNally reminiscing about encounters with Jean-Pierre, and his work.
Black people hold the Black Panther salute in tribute to the six black prisoners found dead at Attico Prison, during the funeral held in Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York City, New York State, USA, 25 Sep 1971 --- Image by © JP Laffont/Sygma/Corbis
From the moment the images of 20th century America appeared on the screen, the audience was hooked. Wide, glittering eyes gazed pensively at the astonishing images from a not-so distant past. From overdoses in Times Square, to B52 Bombers being loaded for Vietnam, Jean-Pierre traversed American history, through the images from Photographer’s Paradise whilst recalling the memories behind the photograph.
In 1967, Jean-Pierre shot his first reportage on the transgender community in New York. “It was my first summer in New York,” Jean-Pierre recalled, “I was coming out of the studio of Peter Basch and Phillippe Halsman… and two guys called me on the street (between 55th Street and Broadway). They asked if I was a photographer, and I said yes, and they asked if I could take pictures of them.”
Laffont not only documented subcultures, he also photographed technological milestones, such as the last day of the AT&T operator and Apollo XI, and different boycotts, like the postal service strike which resulted in President Nixon sending in the National Guard to sort through the mail.
Another historic event he captured was the departure of President Nixon from the White House. “For 6 years I was accredited at the White House… When you are White House accredited you must follow the president at all times. At the time Gerald Ford was getting ready to be sworn in, so I had the choice, either to go and photograph Gerry being sworn in, or to follow Nixon up to the last point,” Jean-Pierre said as he flicked the slide of Nixon waving goodbye from the helicopter. “There were very few photographer’s with me at that time… You can see the staff and chefs, many were crying. Annie Leibovitz and I photographed the moment where Nixon said goodbye.”
Photographer’s Paradise is quite a substantial photo book, and in this current age, publishing a photo book, regardless of size, has its challenges. Overproduction or over publishing, changing distribution channels and an ever-declining readership base, can weigh heavily on the minds of publishers and authors alike. Instead of focusing on this, one must look to the immortality of the photo book.
In Photographer’s Paradise, Jean-Pierre explores this immortality by showcasing the history of the formative years of modern America. In 392 pages, Laffont captures the misfits, impoverished and the defiant. He hones in on the explosion of the sexual revolution, civil rights movement and the consequence of an assault on the freedom of speech.
The echoes of America’s history can still be heard today, but as nations continue to prosper, and remove themselves from their tumultuous past, it is photo books, such as Jean-Pierre Laffont’s Photographer’s Paradise, which will stand as testimony’s to their history.
By Kyla Woods
Jean-Pierre Laffont presents his work at the ICP Lecture Series on November 12, 2014. Manhattan, NY. ©Benjamin Petit/Haytham
Alison Morley, chair of the documentary and photojournalism program at ICP, introduces the ICP Lecture Series on JP Laffont's work on November 12, 2014. Manhattan, NY. ©Benjamin Petit/Haytham
Michele McNally, assistant managing editor for The New York Times, talks about her experience working for JP and Eliane Laffont in the 70's and introduces JP Laffont's work at the ICP Lecture Series on November 12, 2014. Manhattan, NY. ©Benjamin Petit/Haytham