We have learned that Jean-Pierre Laffont has been nominated to the grade of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur 2023, he sent us this text:
It is with great emotion that I learned on July 13, 2023 of my appointment to the rank of Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in the category of Europe and Foreign Affairs for my 57 years in the service of photojournalism. The news was announced to me by my friend Julien Alamo from Picto who called me from Perpignan (city of Visa pour l’Image and world center of photojournalism) to congratulate me… “On what? asked Eliane… “Because he was named Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur”…
My first thought was for my grandfather Amedée Laffont who was Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor which he received for his entire career as professor of medicine and dean of the faculty of Algiers and founder of the medical encyclopedia, and who was delighted when I told him that I wanted to be a photographer (not easy in a family made up only of doctors), and he even encouraged me with these words: “You are going to be the first in the family to see the world.” I think he would be proud of me today.
How do you become a photojournalist? I went to the School of Arts and Crafts in Vevey for 3 years and I learned everything there: design, technique, composition, precision, laboratory work and retouching, lighting, light… Then I went to Paris where I became the assistant of Sam Levin, the great photographer of the stars of the time. And that’s how I became Ava Gardner’s photographer for a while, but what I really wanted to do was to be a photojournalist and travel the world. In 1964 I went to the United States which fascinated me and where I still live 60 years later.
I covered the major American events of the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s: the Vietnam War, Watergate, the departure of Nixon, the liberation of women and gays, and the civil rights… I am often told that I am the only French photographer who has spent a large part of his life covering the important events that transformed the United States. And it was from New York that I left to photograph the rest of the world and the many conflicts: the riots in Pakistan, Vietnam and the bombs in Guam, the independence of Mozambique and Angola, the floods in Bangladesh, the earthquake in Nicaragua, India where I stayed for two years following Indira Ghandi, Cuba and its cigar factories, the awakening of China, Soviet Poland, the USSR, Lebanon and Palestinian children, the complexity of the town of Jerusalem… I felt more and more engaged in my stories and could spend months covering, without commission, major humanitarian issues such as child slaves around the world, the poverty of American farmers and their social injustices, scientific discoveries and progress such as childhood cancer at the l’hospital Saint-Jude in Memphis,. I also photographed the greats of this world: Muhammad Ali, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King and a few presidents during my 8 years at the White House, also Mother Theresa, André Malraux, Marguerite Yourcenar, Brigitte Bardot, Charles Aznavour, Gilbert Bécaud, Sylvie Vartan, Sheila, and Françoise Hardy.
When I look at my work, I realize how incredibly lucky I was to be able to fulfill my dreams as a young photographer… luck, of course, but also a shared history with Hubert Henrotte, Monique Kouznetzoff, Eliane Laffont, with whom we founded the two largest photo agencies, Gamma and Sygma, which have spread out the know-how of French photojournalism in the United States, but also in the rest of the world.
Finally, I want to thank Eliane, my wife, my friend, my accomplice, my editor, and the best photo-editor I know. It is together, and with her constant enthusiasm, that we have gone through these 57 years of photojournalism. Without her, I would not be here today receiving this award that honors me. This medal is hers as much as mine.
New York July 16, 2023