The Creative Process of Gilles Peress and Dougie Wallace

The creative process in photography is the way in which a photographer creates a body of work through experimenting with new ideas to then develop on others. This process involves the photographer choosing appropriate techniques in how the photograph is captured, as well as the locations and subjects of the photographs and their approach towards them. Which is then carries on to how these images are post produced and developed into physical copies, whether they are or not. This is process is present whenever photographer pursues a project with an idea in mind and is vital in making an idea come to life through the work presented in the final images.

I will be looking closely at the work of two different photographers and I will dissect their creative process in how they approach their work, and how this is presented in their photographic projects. From this, I will be able to draw the similarities, as well as their differences and conclude how close these photographers are in their creative processes.


Gilles Peress

gillesBorn in a village near Paris on December 29, 1946. Peress would not start his career in Photography until 1970 after he’d studied Political Science and Philosophy. Peress went on to be a documentary photographer, where his early projects were centred around the immigration in Europe and the suffering that is inflicted on those surrounded by conflict. Areas of conflict that Peress has photographed include Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Rwanda. His focus on areas of conflict may originate from his mother being a Christian from the Middle East and his father being of Jewish decent, making the immigration that his parents have personal experienced a likely influence on his work.

gunOne of Peress’s earliest projects that he has continued to work on ever since is his photographs of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, titled “Hate Thy Brother” which was an event between 1968 and 1998 where there was an ethic nationalist conflict that result in the death of thousands of civilians. Peress captures all his images in black and white, which is common amongst documentary photography, this is an effective style choice that means the photographer doesn’t have to worry about too much about colours within the photo. This makes Peress’s photographs powerful as the absence of colour removes any distractions that the background may hold in it, therefore giving greater focus to the subject of the photograph and making the photograph stronger. This absence of colour also seems to add an emotional aspect to photographs, which could be another reasoning of Peress’s choice of this style as the suffering is intensified.

NORTHERN IRELAND. 1997. Catholic girls.Although Peress’s has been known to photograph in colour on specific occasions, most notably the photographs he took during his “Hate Thy Brother” project in Northern Ireland, where he captured images of the children that live in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. In these images, Peress presents us a contrast to the violent and negative nature of the rest of the photographs he captured of the Troubles, as he shows us children playing in the street and posing for the camera. Peress uses this as a way of mocking the issues that at the time existed in their country by making adults problems amongst each other seems childish and pointless as they result to violence as a solution to the issues. The colour used in the contrast to black and white, emphasises this point by giving the photograph warmth and causing it to be more light-hearted in comparison to the seriousness that black and white creates. Therefore, adding to the humour and overall message of the photograph.

old womanPeress has acknowledged that he does take care in capturing a great photograph, he has stated that this is not the sole purpose in why he captures these images. He rather uses it to connect “to reality” and “gathering evidence for history”. This suggests that Peress’s intentions when pursuing a project or a shot specifically, he does not pursue it with the purpose to capture something aesthetically pleasing. It’s instead captured to reveal the moment of an event the way it really happened without the manipulation that words can have on the reality of an event. This most likely was due to his distrust for media, which caused him to want to experience these areas of conflict, so he could document them his self and present his own truth of these situations that is an alternative to what is shown through the media.

war victimA theme in Peress’s work that has gave his photographs the ability to capture so much attention is his focus on the morbid and suffering that is a result of conflict. Peress photographs often capture horrific amounts of pain and death of civilians that is inflicted by their government, leaders or opposing groups. A prime example of this can be found in his project, “The Silence: Rwanda” which captured the effects of the Rwandan genocide where the members of the Hutu’s massacred those of the Tutsi’s. Peress’s captured images of dead victims piled in mass graves and on the streets, some unrecognisable due to the decay, civilians with scars machete scars across their face and some of machetes themselves that have been left in the streets.

swingIn contrast to this, he would also capture image of the child on swings and playing amongst each other, which Peress uses to represent the innocence that lives amongst the horror of war and genocide and to show the humanity that is at risk under the hands of evil men. Peress stated that he captured these photographs to raise the question of “If man is fundamentally good or bad” as he captures the injustice of man and the result of conflict that the western world and other outer civilisations chose to do nothing about. So, this opens to a discussion of our own morality and if we can redeem ourselves for the fatal mistake we made in letting such an injustice occur.

Peress has made it clear that his political agenda is not portrayed through his photographs, he simply captures the events in which they occurred and does not try to twist events to fit his agenda as this is what he believes the media does with the truth of events. He believes that there are many perspectives that take part in photography, Himself, the camera and the viewer that can all tell their own truth of the event, which Peress tries to leave as open as possible. A way in which he attempts to further this openness is by not editing his books and producing no narrative for the photographs he has taken, which forces the viewer to create their perspective on the event without the bias of Peress’s personal agenda.


Dougie Wallace

dougieBorn and raised in Glasgow, Dougie Wallace would not start taking photographs until he left his role in the army, when he then started backpacking in Napol. During this time, he purchased his first DSLR camera and started to take photographs as he travelled, this then inspired his interest in photography. Wallace’s work has been focused around social documentary, which started with work that can be found in his first book “Shoreditch Wild Life” which contains photographs documenting the nightlife and morning afters that he would capture in Shoreditch.

lipstickThe project which Wallace has become most famous for is his street photography of the wealthy in Knightsbridge, titled “Harrodsburg” which is a series of photographs that capture the rich dressed in expensive clothing/jewellery whilst shopping, which Wallace describes as revealing the “phenomena of the 1%” and the extremely different world of the wealthy. When Wallace captures his photographs of the rich, they are often very closely shot, and he always captures his photographs suddenly without warning the subjects, which results in a reaction of some sort, whether it be shock, recoil or anger. This is a conscious decision that Wallace takes when trying to get the photograph he wants, as his photographs in Knightsbridge consist of a style where there is a connection between the subject and the camera as they react to the camera’s obnoxious presence. This connection manipulates how they would normally present themselves supposed to if they were asked for their photograph to be taken

womanWhen shooting his project in Knightsbridge, Wallace uses a double flash appose to using a singular flash as it removes shadows that are cast by accessories on the subject, keeping them well-lit in the photograph. Along with this, he uses an aperture of F11, to control how much of the flash appears in the photograph so it doesn’t become over-exposed. The shutter speed is then adjusted based on the background, for example time of day or weather. This process ensures the quality of Wallace’s photographs since he often captured very close shots and usually without looking through the view finder. Therefore, Wallace uses this method as a way of getting a clean shot with the right lighting conditions without the need of too much adjustment.

devilsAlthough Wallace has become known for his photographs of “Harrodsburg”, there are projects similar to his first, “Shoreditch Wild Life”, where he continues to capture a class of people that differs with the display of wealthy people. One of these projects being the photographs that he has captured in Blackpool, titled “Stags, Hens and Bunnies”. This project came around when Wallace would travel to Blackpool to collect campervans which he would buy and sell at the time, so it was during these trips that he would capture images of stag do’s and hen parties that would occur in Blackpool. Wallace’s approach to capturing these images differ a great deal from the photographs of “Harrodsburg”, with the most notable being the focal length of the camera between the subject. These photographs are captured at a far more respectable distance from the subject and seem to capture subjects that are more willing, and have a positive connection with the camera, rather than the invasiveness of the “Harrodsburg” photographs.

This could be based on Wallace having a greater respect for the people of Blackpool over the wealthy in Knightsbridge, as Wallace did not come from a necessarily wealthy background and still doesn’t really live a wealthy lifestyle. This therefore, most likely effects his work in how he approaches the “Harrodsburg” project with less consideration of the feelings of the subject as he does not relate himself with the people of Knightsbridge with their excessive spending and expensive living. Whereas the “Stags, Hens and Bunnies” project can be very closely related to his first project, where he captured the night life of Shoreditch which is where he lived at the time, showing that he can see the people of Blackpool as people he can relate to.
shoreditchwildlife1753A key element that has created a tone to Wallace’s style is his sense of humour in his photographs. Wallace’s ability to add humour to his shot is evident across all his projects, most significantly being in “Stags, Hens and Bunnies”, which is displayed through the drunken antics, interactions and costumes of the men and woman visiting Blackpool. Wallace purposely focused on the stag and hen parties as it was easier for him to take photographs without the reluctance of sober subjects, although this is also in Wallace’s favour as it is in their alcohol induced behaviour that Wallace can encourage these antics and is more likely to come across comedic moments that he can capture. Humour can also be found in “Harrodsburg”, but this is displayed through the way Wallace captures the subject. With the close shots that are taken of these people, along the off-guard reactions that he catches, Wallace is able to take unflattering images with seemingly exaggerated expressions that turn the photograph into being something close to a real-life caricature. Creating a comical view on the rich, which mocks the way the rich are frequently displayed as glamourous and desirable.

Although it can be assumed that, due to Wallace’s different approaches to his subjects based on whether they are the higher class in Knightsbridge or working class in Blackpool or Shoreditch that he displays a bias in his work as he relates less to the rich. Wallace has in fact stated that he is not trying to be biased in presenting either of the classes and is simply just “showing what’s happening” suggesting that his work is just documentation without making a message that shames either side. Wallace backs up this fact by not adding any text to his books, therefore, he is not making a direct comment on the subject matter and manipulating the viewers interpretation. Even when he had decided to add foreword to his books, he had asked writer “Peter York” to contextualise for him, which removes his own interpretations from the book.



The first link that can made of these two photographers is that they both focus on documentary. Both photographers have stuck to long lasting projects that follow the lives of a specific group of people and the day-to-day events of their lives, whatever those events may be. Although they contrast greatly in the people that they follow, Gilles being known for his work documenting the lives of immigrants and citizens who are caught in the effects of war-torn countries, whereas Wallace is known for capturing the lives of the drunken, working class party-goers and excessively rich shoppers. Even with this difference in subject matter, both photographers are still capturing a narrative that gives the viewer something to interpret on situation these people are in and what this means whether it is in reflection to ourselves, society or world, or is simply an insight to a world of people we may have not known/relate to.
Another thing that seems to contrast in these two photographers is the way in which they capture their subject. Wallace is famously known for brash and intrusive way of capturing a subject very closely in his project “Harrodsburg” that forces a reaction out of people, in order to get his style of photograph. When comparing this to Gilles, it is obvious that there is a difference in how they shoot as Gilles seems to capture his images at a respectful distance and doesn’t seem to ever get extremely close to his subjects. Gilles also does seem to force a reaction out of his subject and instead captures very genuine photographs, especially since his work is often images of victims of suffering. Also, Gilles photographs tend to be more observational of an event that is taking place and tries not to make his presence apart of the photograph, whereas Wallace’s presence is obvious in many of his work, whether it is the drunken stags and hens pointing or giving looks to the camera, or the rich angered by his obnoxious flash in their face.
When it comes to colour within their photographs, their difference of style in documentary influences a difference in their approach to colour. Wallace’s photographs are all taken in colour and are usual quite bold and rich, especially in “Harrodsburg” where the colours on the subject stand out from the background and emphasises the depiction of wealth as their expensive clothing and accessories are put under the spotlight. However, Gilles’ approach is a polar opposite to this and instead shoots in black & white. Technically, this is useful for Gilles as he is usually in areas of conflict and the use of black & white means that he doesn’t have to be too concerned with the light exposure in his images. But also, in opposition to Wallace’s focus on the subject’s appearance, Gilles’ use of black and white forces you to focus on the events and emotions that are involved in these conflicts and takes away the warmth that could be found Wallace’s more light-hearted photographs. Then again, when Gilles has captured in colour it has been to add the same warmth and humour that Wallace uses in his images.
Continuing with the idea of humour in photography, whether it has been a fundamental part of their work or not, these photographers have both used humour in a way that they have been able to make a statement on society and social issues. Gilles’ work centres greatly around the death and suffering of civilians in areas of conflict and this is presented with images of these negative effects throughout most of his work. Though he also uses humour as a means of making a judgement on the absurdity of these issues and the mindless violence that is the result of these groups incapability of resolving differences. For example, the images of the children living in Northern Ireland during the troubles, which mocks the adult issues that are childishness in their own way.
Finally, an important similarity that these two photographers share in their creative process is their decision to remove their own interpretations of work from their books. Though Gilles does this more effectively than Wallace, as he has never displayed any text or narrative in his books at all. They both still attempt in their own ways to try and not force their own agendas onto the viewer as they only want to document an event or a world of people for the viewer to interpret themselves.


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