The Sous Les Etoiles Gallery in New York is dedicating a new exhibition to this great photojournalist who immortalized the ills and protest movements of mid-twentieth-century American society.
He captured the civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights movements, the youth against the Vietnam War, Nixon’s departure from the White House, the gangs in the working-class neighborhoods. But also “the generation of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll,” the hippie movement, and luminaries like Andy Warhol and Alfred Hitchcock. With his free spirit, this 88-year-old French-American photojournalist from Algeria has been able to show both sides of America, between the leading figures and the outcasts in the background.
A founding member of the Gamma USA and Sygma Photo News agencies, Jean-Pierre Laffont built up an impressive career on the other side of the Atlantic as soon as he arrived in 1965. At that time, New York was in turmoil, a dirty and dangerous city, plagued by crime, drugs, prostitution, and corruption. So much so that it was nicknamed “Fear City.” This is what the Sous Les Etoiles Gallery presents here with “Gangs and Protests.” “Somehow, this period of American history may seem dark, but there was a huge wave of optimism and energy in the country,” explains the photographer. “America was going through profound changes, and it seemed that everyone was out on the streets protesting.”
A singular and benevolent look
Between black and white and color, the photographs plunge us into the heart of the Big Apple’s effervescence, particularly in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx, where tensions between communities have appeared. Jean-Pierre Laffont followed one of the gangs, the Savage Skulls, “the only ones he wanted to meet,” based in Hunts Point, one of the Bronx’s most densely populated neighborhoods. The images are reminiscent of Walter Hill’s cult film, The Warriors. Other clips highlight the rise of a new wave of feminism, led by activist Betty Friedan, or the pride of the early gay rights movement. “When I look back at the individual photographs I took over 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: 21st century America.” A multi-awarded photographer, Jean-Pierre Laffont has documented over five decades “the ills of society and the passionate descendants of an American people exercising their own freedom,” while casting the same powerful gaze on social and economic problems throughout the world.
Exhibition “Gangs and Protests” by Jean-Pierre Laffont
Under the Stars Gallery, New York
From 2 February to 18 March 2023