Photography | Jean-Pierre Laffont’s ‘Turbulent America’
Eliane and JP Laffont, New York City, New York. June 25, 2013.
“There could never really be justice on stolen land,” said KRS-One. We’ve seen this story play out, over and over again, from Ferguson to Baltimore in less than a year’s time. America the free, America the brave, America the nation founded on slavery and genocide – America has always been, and may always be, a turbulent home to millions of members of its citizenry. But for those of us born into this country, we are like fish in water trying to describe what is wet. We cannot always perceive what we live within, so we are blessed when outsiders come, as they always do, and perceive our nation with fresh eyes.
Jean-Pierre Laffont, a man of French descent, was born in Algeria, raised in Morocco, and educated in Switzerland. He first came to the United States in the 1960s as a photojournalist. He traveled throughout the fifty states in search of the stories that spoke to his heart, stories that called out the injustice of the time, stories that spoke to the heroic nature of the common man. He never worked on assignment; rather, he assigned himself to cover the news that moved him to raise his camera, to pursue photography, and document the world.
The result of three decades exploring the country’s vast and complex history is gathered together in Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America 1960-1990 (Glitterati Incorporated). Weighing in at 392 pages, with 359 black-and-white and four-color photographs, the book includes personal essays written by Laffont, along with an introduction by Sir Harold Evans. Taken together, the stories reveal another America, one that is not immediately evident from the mass media depictions of the same old narratives.
In Laffont’s America, we see the brutality of systemic racism that made work of the Thirteenth Amendment’s legalization of slavery within the prison system, as well as the crushing poverty of both rural and urban Americas in the north and the south. We see the dark side of the American dream as capitalist forces profit off the mass incarceration of minorities, and are given insight into the rituals and practices of the nation’s oldest active terrorist organization, the Ku Klux Klan.
But we also witness the brilliant light of youth culture as it stands up for itself, standing against the traditions of the past. Laffont documented the early gay pride and women’s liberation movements of the early 1970s, revealing the rebellious spirit of a citizenry that continues to fight for and demand equal rights and equal protections for their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Through Laffont’s lens we see the emergence of a brave new world, one that allows the youth to follow their dreams, for better or for worse. The result is a remarkable monograph that is a work of significant art history, revealing an astonishing breadth, detail, and scope as profound and compelling as the man who took the photographs himself.