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.

Essay by Eliane Laffont