An Extraordinary Document of Our World

An Extraordinary Document of Our World is a body of work by French photographer Gilles Perrin that spans nearly 25 years and reflects a global odyssey in search of portrait subjects. Respect for people and the work they do is central to Perrin. From the beginning, he’s seen his job as an artist and social documentarian to seek out and photograph what may become lost to time.

Perrin works in collaboration with his wife Nicole Ewenczyk who is responsible for all the logistical arrangements for their fieldwork and works closely with the portrait subjects to make sure they understand what she and Perrin are trying to accomplish.

Slow, deliberate, intellectual—it happens in his mind and with his eyes. Perrin works in a style that hearkens back to the beginning of photography. He makes his portraits using a 4 x 5 inch field camera mounted on a tripod.

A keen observer of people and customs, Perrin is on a mission. He describes himself as “a photographer of the human heritage in all its forms,” who places his work into the time-honored humanistic photographic tradition of bearing witness. An introduction to his work in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia explains, “My work is to make photographs, and I want to be a witness to the condition of the world. I try to show a reality that matches my vision and my emotions; the work is a conscious construction intended to be far from ordinary photography.”

His portraits are never taken furtively and are never, as he says, “stolen.” He explains how he works and what he wants to do so there “is always a dialogue with [his] subjects.” And this communication, sometimes verbal and sometimes gestural depending on the country, allows “each person to participate in this social exchange, thus creating collaboration between myself, and the subject as a human being.” This philosophically based approach to portraiture honed over many years is how he approached subjects for Detroit Resurgent, a project that differed from those featured in An Extraordinary Document of Our World in terms of how some subjects were selected, while relying on the same humanistic foundation.

A full range of Perrin’s photographic work is on the web site Gilles Perrin, auteur-photographe

Howard Bossen Exhibition curator, MSU School of Journalism and MSU Museum Adjunct Curator