Paolo Pellegrin has travelled to some of the Earth’s harshest and most extreme environments, to bring back photographs which speak to a profound communality of human experience. As a member of Magnum Photos, Pellegrin works within a tradition of photography which transcends easy definition as documentary or expression. Instead, he has described his attitude towards his practice as ‘mak[ing] the specific coincide with the universal, [so that] the photograph becomes archetypal’. 

 

 

 

  • 'You want to be more vulnerable because that’s how your photography becomes more human. In a sense you want to...

    "You want to be more vulnerable because that’s how your photography becomes more human. In a sense you want to become a totally blank canvas so the subject or situation reflects him or itself upon you."

     

    - Paolo Pellegrin

  • After briefly studying architecture at L’Università la Sapienza, Pellegrin pursued his interest in photography at Rome’s Istituto Italiano di Fotografia. He was soon taking on international commissions from publications including TimeNational Geographic and Newsweek, for whom he worked as a contract photographer for ten years. He developed a particularly enduring and fruitful relationship with the New York Times, whose Director of Photography, Kathy Ryan, has praised his ‘poetic photojournalism.’ Over the course of a career which spans three decades, Pellegrin has received accolades including the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award, the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for lifetime achievement in the field of photojournalism, and 11 World Press Photo Awards.

  • Whilst his work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions worldwide, Pellegrin’s recent retrospective Un’Antologia has brought together more than 300 photographs from his personal archive, which reveal the creative journey and themes which animate his practice. After opening to acclaim at Rome’s MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts, the show was displayed at the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg before returning last month to hang in Turin’s Reggia di Venaria. In each of these locations, Pellegrin’s perceptive, sometimes provocative, perspective has resonated with audiences who feel compelled to explore the narratives which lie beyond familiar news headlines.

     

  • From this exhibition which celebrates the impressive diversity and scope of his career, there are particular photographs which stand apart, evocative of a special quality often present in Pellegrin’s work. Whether addressing urban poverty, disease, natural disaster or conflict, Pellegrin's photographs go beyond documenting abstracted chaos and suffering to illuminate specific moments in the lives of individuals whose behaviour refuses to be overwhelmed by the drama of their context. These images reflect an essential and acutely moving human resistance, the poignancy of existence heightened in some of the most challenging landscapes of our time. 

     

    As Germano Celant, the artistic director of the Fondazione Prada and curator of Pellegrin’s exhibition at MAXXI has commented, Pellegrin has developed ‘a working method that looks back to the idea of slow journalism, guided by the intellectual urgency to learn more rather than by a desire to understand an iconic image. This translates into stories to be read over time, periodic returns to places photographed in the past, and a focus not only on the moment of conflict but on what happens afterwards.’

  • Paolo Pellegrin, Tijuana - A girl celebrating her quinceañera along the U.S.-Mexico border. Tijuana, Mexico, 2019.

    Paolo Pellegrin

    Tijuana - A girl celebrating her quinceañera along the U.S.-Mexico border. Tijuana, Mexico, 2019.

    In 2019, Pellegrin visited towns along the highly politicised US - Mexico border, focusing on the social and political issues of this region, which has so often been subject to crude generalisation at the hands of the mass media. This picture shows a young woman celebrating her quinceañera, a moment which marks her coming of age and coincides with her 15th birthday, on a beach in the border town of Tijuana. 

     

    This photograph is an example of what Pellegrin has termed as ‘an open picture’, in which he deliberately exploits an ambiguity (in this case, the absence of her face) to encourage a deeper engagement on the part of the viewer, who can imagine their personal journey to that moment and make it their own. Whilst many photojournalists have perceived their role as creating records which illustrate and testify to particular historical circumstances, Pellegrin believes in the importance of photography which points towards less definite conclusions, and which possesses the power to inspire a dialogue with his audience.

     

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  • I’m more interested in a photograph that is “unfinished”—a photograph that is suggestive and can trigger a conversation or dialogue. There are pictures that are closed, finished, to which there is no way in. - Paolo Pellegrin

  • Paolo Pellegrin, At a wedding. Jacmel, Haiti, 2006

    Paolo Pellegrin

    At a wedding. Jacmel, Haiti, 2006

    For most of its history Haiti has been plagued by political violence, but this reached a high-water mark in 2006 following a fraught presidential election. After allegations of electoral fraud led to demonstrations and protests across the country, René Préval was voted in by a knife-edge 51% majority. Pellegrin visited Haiti in the midst of this turmoil, photographing Haitians whose lives were disrupted by the uncertainty and brutality of their political situation.

     

    This photograph shows a couple at a wedding, showing a moment of tenderness and tenacity which belies the citizens’ vulnerability to Haiti’s harsh natural, political and economic circumstances.

     

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  • Paolo Pellegrin, SWITZERLAND. March 20, 2020. Family quarantining in the mountains. Emma, 6, runs through a field. , 2020

    Paolo Pellegrin

    SWITZERLAND. March 20, 2020. Family quarantining in the mountains. Emma, 6, runs through a field. , 2020

    This series of photographs of Pellegrin’s family was taken during the Covid-19 pandemic in the mountains of Switzerland, in 2020. 

     

    Pellegrin was shooting an assignment about wildfires in Australia when he first realised the extent of change which would be wrought by the coronavirus outbreak. He was forced to make a choice between documenting the unfolding international drama of the pandemic, and returning to his family in Geneva. He has described his decision to retreat to an isolated farmhouse in the Swiss countryside as the first time in decades that he has chosen not to cover an event of such magnitude.

     

    Pellegrin describes the series he created during the ensuing months of quarantine as the result of ‘looking for moments of silence.’ He has constructed a unique record of family life – one that he would not have been able to capture before, when his frenetic travel schedule prevented him from observing time’s slow passage and its gradual, ceaseless impact on his family. Whilst this series shows Pellegrin working with new subjects and sensitivities, his desire to use photography to illuminate more fundamental principles remains:‘I wanted to touch something that was more timeless and universal. Something that was in the moment but that also transcended it.’

     

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  • "We're very fortunate to all be here together."  

    - Paolo Pellegrin

    TURNING THE CAMERA FROM WAR TO FAMILY

    The New York Times Magazine, May 2020

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  • curated by lucrezia di martino
    TEXT BY LUCY FLEMING-BROWN
  • AVAILABLE WORKS

  • Paolo Pellegrin, Boko Haram - A counseling session at Neem, an organization offering psychological support for victims of Boko Haram....

    Paolo Pellegrin

    Boko Haram - A counseling session at Neem, an organization offering psychological support for victims of Boko Haram. Maiduguri, Nigeria, 2017

    In 2017, Pellegrin was commissioned by TIME  to travel to Nigeria and document the recovery of victims of terrorist organization Boko Haram. After militants began a scorched-earth campaign to take over the northeast of the country in 2009, many thousands of individuals have suffered abduction, indoctrination and savage mistreatment. With each wave of liberation by external military and diplomatic endeavours, people are returning to society and beginning to rebuild their lives and relationships in the light of their traumatic experiences.

     

    In this series, Pellegrin captures the diverse paths to recovery undertaken by individuals who have survived this ordeal. He follows victims through ideological assessments, group therapy, and camps for internally displaced persons, as well as documenting family reunions and visiting familiar landscapes laid bare by Boko Haram’s activities.  Continue reading

     

     

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    • Paolo Pellegrin, A dog roaming the streets of Banda Aceh, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, 2005
      Paolo Pellegrin, A dog roaming the streets of Banda Aceh, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, 2005
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    • Paolo Pellegrin, Congo, Pointe-Noire, 2014
      Paolo Pellegrin, Congo, Pointe-Noire, 2014
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    • Paolo Pellegrin, Civilians fleeing ISIS-controlled areas. Mosul, Iraq, 2016
      Paolo Pellegrin, Civilians fleeing ISIS-controlled areas. Mosul, Iraq, 2016
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    • Paolo Pellegrin, Serbian women mourn a man killed by Albanians. Obilić, Kosovo, 2000
      Paolo Pellegrin, Serbian women mourn a man killed by Albanians. Obilić, Kosovo, 2000
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    • Paolo Pellegrin, A man arrested by the police after attacking his father. Rochester, New York, USA, 2012
      Paolo Pellegrin, A man arrested by the police after attacking his father. Rochester, New York, USA, 2012
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    • Paolo Pellegrin, Homeless. Rome, Italy, 1990
      Paolo Pellegrin, Homeless. Rome, Italy, 1990
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