During the sixties and seventies, New York City was a somber place, fascinating and frightening at the same time. It was nicknamed at the time “Fear City”, plagued by crime, drugs, prostitution and corruption. Jean-Pierre Laffont slipped into this city with ease and without greed or prejudice. As a news reporter, he had the audacity to intermingle with these different communities whose demands would powerfully underline the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. “Somehow, this period of American history may appear somber, however a huge wave of optimism and an exceptional energy was uplifting the country, “ remembers Jean-Pierre Laffont. “The country was going through profound changes, and it looked like everyone was in the streets protesting”.
The rise of a new wave of feminism was led by activist Betty Friedan. Through her book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, she was considered the leader of what was called the second wave of American Feminism. At the same moment, the first parades of pride radicalizing the gay rights movement in the 1970s called for urgent attention for equal rights. “I photographed the “sex, drugs and rock and roll generation”, the hippie movement, the women’s revolution and the gangs. When I look back at the individual photographs I took during 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 and often painful life in the city” said Laffont.
Tensions between communities appear in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx. Indeed, poverty and inequality had allowed many gangs to settle and grow in these neighborhoods, also making way for drug trafficking and more…
The Bronx, while recognized as the birthplace of hip-hop, was also the symbol of a new political activism. The Savage Skulls, a mostly Puerto Rican and African American street gang, started in the Hunts Point area of the Bronx during the late 1960s, gaining popularity in the 1970s.The gang declared war on the drug dealers, and was also involved in several running battles with rival gangs. “The Bronx was densely populated with several other gangs at the time: the Dirty Dozen; the Seven Immortals; the Savage Nomads, to name a few. The Savage Skulls were the only ones I wanted to meet. Rival gangs had clearly delineated zones with rules of engagement. Their goal was to defend themselves against the police.”Jean-Pierre Laffont attended the School of Graphic Art in Vevey, Switzerland, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Photography.
Jean-Pierre Laffont attended the School of Graphic Art in Vevey, Switzerland, where he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Photography.
He was a founding member of the Gamma USA and Sygma Photo News agencies. For more than five decades, Laffont traveled the globe, covering the news, the people, and the social and economic issues of his time. His photos were published in the world's leading news magazines, including Le Figaro, London Sunday Times, Newsweek, Paris Match, Stern, and Time. He was named one of the one hundred most important people in photography. Among the numerous awards Laffont has received are the Overseas Press Club of America's Madeline Dane Ross Award, the World Press Photo General Picture Award, University of Missouri's World Understanding Award and First Prize from the New York Newspaper Guild. In 1996 he was honored with the National French Order of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (a Knight in the National French Order of Arts and Letters).
In 2016 Jean Pierre was named International Photographer of the Year of the Pingyao Photo Festival in China. In 2020 he received The Lucie Award for Achievement in Photojournalism and The Visa D’Or Award du Figaro Magazine for Lifetime Achievement. Laffont resides in New York with his wife Eliane, his daughter and his two granddaughters.
Awards and Honors:
1962: Cross for Military Valor for his humanitarian acts during the Algerian War
1979: First Prize: New York Newspaper Guild, for "Child Labor"; Overseas Press Club: Madeline Dane Ross award, for originating the use of photography to raise awareness of child labor conditions around the world.
1980: World Press: First Prize, General Picture category; University of Missouri, School of Journalism: First Prize, World Understanding Award
1996: French National Order of Merit: named Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
2016: International Photographer of the year of The Pingyao Photo Festival; China.
2020:Visa D’Or Award du Figaro Magazine for Lifetime Achievement.
2021: Lucie Award for Achievement in Photojournalism.