Bronx, New York City, New York / Summer, 1966
On Fox Street in the Bronx, an abandoned Plymouth “Savoy” becomes a jungle gym for kids to play in and on.
Watkins Glen, New York / July 28, 1973
A young couple kisses as the chaos of the crowd whirs around them with an estimated 600,000 rock fans.
The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was a 1973 rock festival which once received
the Guinness Book of World Records entry for “Largest audience at a pop festival.”
Manhattan, New York City, New York / May, 1980
A prostitute leans playfully on a cop car on 42nd Street Times Square.
The police struggled to keep up with the onslaught of crime in the area,
and at times seemed to be playing a friendly game of cat and mouse with the hookers.
Manhattan, New York City, New York / September, 1972
Tombs Prison, standing on Center Street at Leonard Street, was built in 1840 with granite from an
old prison in City Hall. The hands express different moods: Revolt, despair, passivity, hope, prayer and abandon.
Bronx, New York City, New York / July 20, 1972
Members of the New York street gang Savage Skulls strike a pose reminiscent of West Side Story.
The trademark of the primarily Puerto Rican gang was a sleeveless denim jacket with a skull and crossbones
design on the back. Based in the South Bronx neighborhood of Hunts Point,
the gang declared war on the drug dealers that operated in the area
as well as running battles with rival gangs.
Manhattan, New York City, New York / October, 1975
Two homeless men squat in the shadow of the recently completed World Trade Center.
New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy and the World Trade Center sat largely vacant,
unable to find companies to fill its large office spaces.
In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville comes Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990 (Glitterati Incorporated), the first book by French photographer Jean-Pierre Laffont.
Weighing in at 392 pages with 359 four-color and black-and-white photographs, two gatefolds, and an introduction by Sir Harold Evans, Photographer’s Paradise is nothing short of a publishing tour de force that is equal parts news and art. The book launches on Thursday, October 9 from 6-8pm at Clic Gallery, New York. Hosted by David Elliot Cohen, Mr. Laffont will be making remarks at 6:30pm to speak about his life in photography, and its culmination in this incredible volume of work. Please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Photographer's Paradise" in the subject line.
Christiane Celle, the founder and owner of Clic Gallery, states, "I've known the wonderful Jean-Pierre Laffont for many years as a result of my friendship with his daughter, Stephanie. I've always had great respect for him and his work, but I was fascinated to see his extensive catalog of images representing American life. Photographer's Paradise has given me a much broader representation of Jean-Pierre's skill to create an emotionally-moving photographic history. His portraits are both educating and inspiring. I'm pleased and excited to bring his book launch to Clic Gallery on October 9."
Photographer’s Paradise is a testament to the power of photojournalism to shape the course of human events. As the media rose in power during the second half of the twentieth-century, it was a call to action for many to bare witness to history firsthand. Mr. Laffont found himself on the front lines, something he did with a presence of mind few can lay claim to bare.
Mr. Laffont’s wife and business partner Eliane Laffont has worked with him throughout his career, first as his agent, and then again as his editor. The Laffonts’ shared professional history gave them the knowledge and depth necessary to edit through hundreds of thousands of images that Mr. Laffont had amassed as he traveled all over America.
As Eliane Laffont notes in the afterword, “Free, passionate, curious, constantly seeking stories and running after images, Jean-Pierre photographed everything: crises, tragedies, daily news, the politics of the White House and the United Nations, Hollywood stars and even European celebrities visiting the U.S.
“Jean-Pierre thrived on working alone and only on stories of his choosing. He wrote his itineraries, made his appointments, paid his expenses, developed his films, edited his photos, and wrote his copy. He worked on speculation and disliked working on assignments; the needs of the marketplace never entered into his decisions to cover this or that story. The commerce of journalism did not interest him. His desire to inform and be a photographic witness is what motivated him. Jean-Pierre loved the printed media and never imagined for a moment that his work would be published elsewhere other than in newspapers and magazines.
“This freedom could only come with the support and structure provided by a photo agency. Gamma was a new type of agency that was born in 2967 during the cultural revolution in France and would go on to change the working methods of photojournalists of that period.
“Jean-Pierre and I opened the American office of Gamma USA in 1969 and then founded Sygma Photo News in 1973 with our French partners. These two agencies would be the leaders in the market of world news for a new generation of photojournalists. Within this new type of agency, the photographers became their own editors and retained the rights to their images. The agency covered half of their expenses, distributed their photos, and paid them half of their sales revenue. This unique system would initiate photojournalism a la française, with Jean-Pierre as one of its key pioneers.
“I have edited Jean-Pierre’s work at two different stages in our life together. The first was during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, when he would take pictures and send them to the Sygma office for syndication around the world. Thirty years later, for the purpose of this book, I picked up his contact sheets, negatives, black and white prints, and colored slides again, re-edited the work and discovered new historical and also poetic dimensions to it. What at first had seemed to me to be an objective eye on current events appeared now to be a personal, provocative, thoughtful and emotional response to the issues, subjects, and stories being covered.
“Like most photojournalists of his generation, Jean-Pierre did not think of himself as an artist, yet, like an artist, he followed his own inspiration and developed his own style, powerful and raw, while remaining as sensitive to the inner content as to the visual form. When I reflect on his pictures, I find them both poetic and journalistic.”
Photographer’s Paradise is a magnificent book that is as much a historical document as it is a work of art, in its ability to both render the body and the soul of a moment in time. Mr. Laffont’s ability to perceive the complexities of human existence through the triumphs and tragedies of life are what make his pictures among the most compelling among photojournalists. He sees not only with his eyes, but with his heart.
It is this ability to see that renders one silent before his work, for it is in the silence that we may begin to perceive the existence that lies beyond words. It is in the silence that we may hear the whispered words of Coretta Scott King and Harry Belafonte at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. or the emotion choked in Pat Nixon’s throat as President Richard Nixon announces his resignation. It is in the silence that we look at the electric chair in Sing Sing or down the nose of nuclear warheads and wonder about the fate of humanity. It is in the silence that Mr. Laffont’s photographs speak a thousand words to us. But it is in the telling of his story at Mr. Laffont reveals the brilliance and beauty of his world to us.
Mr. Laffont remembers, “I was born French in Algeria, grew up in Morocco, and studied photography in Switzerland, before finding work as a photographer of movie stars in Paris. What I wanted to be, however, was a photojournalist, and it was the United States that fascinated me. For more than three decades, starting in 1964, I traveled all fifty states seeking to document as wide a range of compelling American stories as possible, and to visually capture the spirit of the times.
“In the 1960s, New York was dirty and dangerous. I did in-depth photo essays of the rise of the World Trade Center, the gangs in the Bronx, and the violence on 42nd Street.
“It felt good to be young then, and in the 1960s glorified freedom of expression. The country was going through profound changes and it looked like everyone was in the streets protesting. I photographed the sex, drugs, and rock and roll generation, the hippie movement, the women’s revolution, and the astronauts of Apollo XI returning from the moon. It was an exciting time, yet this period was darkened by the crimes at Cummins State Farm penitentiary, the unacceptable conditions of life in prisons and the use of the electric chair. There was also the devastating tragedies of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy’s assassinations.
“In the 1970s, the American dream seemed to be disintegrating. The Statue of Liberty was taken hostage by anti-Vietnam War demonstrators. The New York Times published the ‘Pentagon Papers,’ revealing a decade of government lies about the war. Then followed Watergate, and Nixon’s impeachment. The American people no longer trusted their government. I covered the rise of the Black Power movement and the Ku Klux Klan. Then the unthinkable happened: during the 1973 oil embargo, America literally ran out of gas.
“During President Carter’s years, I did photo essays with the poor in his home state of Georgia. The American spirit was down. Still, the war in Vietnam had ended and through the hippie movement the American youth found its optimism and voice.
“In the 1980s, Americans were ready got a new beginning. The baby boomers were growing up and wanted it all. I photographed the rampant consumerism and excesses of the yuppies. The personal computer was born. The US Army finally allowed women to actively serve. The Statue of Liberty had a facelift. President Reagan proclaimed the dream ‘of an America that would be a shining city on a hill’ and declared that ‘the future will be ours.’ While personal greed fueled the illusion of national success, I saw the near-death of the auto industry, the demise of family farms, the poor, the homeless, the old and the lonely. It was hard for me to see that the country was in better times.
“When I look back at the individual photographs I took during this quarter-century period, the images at first seem to depict a ball of confusion: riots, demonstrations, disintegration, collapse and conflict. Taken together, the images show the chaotic, often painful, birth of the country we live in today—the twenty-first century—a place where a black president, married gay couples, and women executives are part of our everyday lives. They do what photographs do best; freeze decisive moments in time for future examination. In order to show that important events occurred over a long period, the chronological order was not always respected, and the ‘story’ has been placed in the decade where it most prominently erupted. These photographs form a personal and historical portrait of a country I have always viewed critically but affectionately, and to which I bear immense gratitude.”
Manhattan, New York City, New York / January 23, 1974
Surrounded by press and bodyguards, Muhammad Ali gestures before brawling with Joe Frazier
at the New York studio of ABC during the weigh-in process. Both were fined $5,000.
Ali went on to box Frazier on January 28, won the fight and retained his NABF title.
Dunham Springs, Louisiana / December 11, 1976
Members of the local Ku Klux Klan gather at a monthly evening ceremony.
Wearing white hoods, they circle their traditional cross on fire.
Washington DC / August 9, 1974
With his wife Pat standing beside him President Richard Nixon resigns.
A very emotional event, Nixon breaks down several times while Pat looks devastated.
Brooklyn, New York City, New York / April 1, 1968
Presidential candidate and New York senator Robert Kennedy
greets supporters during a campaign stop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.
Plains, Georgia / November, 1976
To illustrate Carter’s truly humble beginnings, this family is the nearest neighbors of Jimmy Carter’s family home.
Their home has no running water and/or plumbing of any kind. The bags on the walls hold the family
belongings and serve as closets. They sleep in their sofas and on the floor.