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Jean-Pierre Laffont’s Turbulent America

Jean-Pierre Laffont seems to have been everywhere in America, at least for a few decades. The photojournalist and founder, with his wife Elaine, of the U.S. bureau of Gamma, the French photo agency, and their own agency, Sygma Photo News, Laffont covered a full range of American life, from stories on Hare Krishnas and transvestites to student protests and body builders. Born in Algeria and raised in Morocco, Laffort studied photography in Switzerland and moved to Paris to photograph movie stars. “What I wanted to be, however, was a photojournalist, and it was the United States that fascinated me,” he writes in a introduction to Photographer’s Paradise: Turbulent America, 1960-1990, a book of his work published last year by Glitterati. “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,” he writes.

In a foreword to the book, journalist and writer Sir Harold Evans calls Laffont’s work “a kaleidoscopic review” of what he saw happening to America. “The result is a startling portrayal of the theatrical velocity of American life, its traumatic divisions, its heady ambitions, its heroes and heroines and its unending parade of wannabes and weirdos,” writes Evans. “Laffont’s images altogether speak to the contradictions that play out in American life.”

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