Photojournalist Jonathan Alpeyrie
"I want the viewer to have a most accurate version of the moment photographed"
Interview: Nezih Tavlas / January 26, 2022
(Courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie)
Photojournalism News: What drew you to photojournalism?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I wanted to become a war photographer from a young age, in late high school to be precise. As a young teenager I was already quite found of military history, I spent a lot of time reading historical books, build airplane models and dioramas, while listening to the war stories of my grandparents and uncles who all fought in the major European wars: from WWI, the Spanish civil war, WWII, Indochina and Algeria. It is in my blood, it is my family’s history.
Photojournalism News: What equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite lens/camera?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I currently use Canon EOS R and EOS R5. In terms of lenses, I use mostly a 50mm, 1.2. The two cameras stated earlier are by far my favorite cameras and these are the only two I sue, both because of their quality in various situations, from war to more mundane shoots, as well as their sturdiness.
Photojournalism News: What social media platforms do you use?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: The only social media I use is Instagram which is a little helpful to supplement your career. That being said, Instagram is only to used as tool to expend your career as long as you already have strong foundations as a well published photographer. Indeed, many new photographers make the mistake to use Instagram as a main thrust to improve their career. It will not happen.
Photojournalism News: How do you prepare yourself before any assignment? What would you put in your camera bag for a typical task?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I have the same routine before any trip for many years now. From establishing proper contacts on the ground which will allow me to get my work done, to, once this is established, reach out to my various international clients in order to gage the interest from each one of them. There are two different types of assignments, one that is currently or will be in the news, and second, an assignment, or project which is close to your heart. Both have different values has long term personal projects are both expensive and time consuming and not always timely.
I always travel light, one bag for my personals, and one small camera bag. I want to stay as low key as possible, hence carrying very little gear. Two cameras, two lenses, and that’s it.
Photojournalism News: How would you best describe your style of work? What are you trying to say with your photography?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I would describe my photography as a traditional one, indeed I do not attempt to be too artistic as my main concern as a professional is to portrait strong historical moment as they are, as they come to us. Hence I only use a 50mm and 35mm 1.2 as I do not want to distort my image. I want the viewer to have a most accurate version of the moment photographed.
Photojournalism News: How many photos do you take for one story?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I have never taken a lot of photos while on assignment as I always know what I am looking for and to which style I want to build my story. Typically, I will shoot a few hundred photos, and edit it down to 40 maximum.
(All images © Courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie)
Photojournalism News: What is the last trip you made?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: My last trip was within the Darien Gap on the Panama/Colombia border covering the migrants pushing North towards Mexico and then the USA.
Photojournalism News: What projects will you be working on next?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: Two years before Covid I started a long term project of the drug wars in South America and the US, covering from operations in various countries to the effect of drugs within the population. Now that I am moving away from migration and Covid stories, I will restart again the essay on the drug wars. I have so far covered in the US, Mexico, and Brazil. More countries are to come next year.
Photojournalism News: Which of your photographs would you describe as your favourite? What makes them so special to you?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I do not have favorites within my work as it has been evolving since I started my career 20 years ago.
Photojournalism News: What message do you want your photos to convey?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: The message is simple: rely historical moments to the public as simply as possible. In the future, I would like my photography to be remembered as such with viewers being able to look at some of them and get a glimpse of what was before their time. That’s all.
Photojournalism News: What does a photo need to be a great in your eyes?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: Simplicity, composition, a bit like a painting of olds, hence, a great image needs to step back from its subject to let the viewer a large perspective of the context in which the photo was taken.
Photojournalism News: In the digital age people consume billions of photos every single day, under the circumstances what could make a photo memorable?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: To have your photos remembered down the line and therefore historically has become very difficult as you are now competing with millions of others nonprofessionals who also can easily take photos in various circumstances. Indeed, the amount of photos taken each day is truly at a biblical level, it is also as if the value of the photo itself no longer as true value. In fact, the prices of photos sold has collapsed partially because of the amount of photos taken: both professionally and by amateurs. I firmly believe that in rarity reigns quality.
(All images © Courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie)
Photojournalism News: What motivates you to continue taking pictures and what do you do to keep motivated?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: The drive to continue being a successful journalist, has been to keep embedding myself in historical situation. The action also has a large place in understanding why I keep going to dangerous areas around this world. And finally, my career has defined who I am.
Photojournalism News: What was the biggest professional risk you have taken and what was the outcome?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: Some war trips are more dangerous than others. Syria was always one of the dangerous assignments I’ve had to do because of the intensity of the fighting, the kidnapping.. But of course, high risk gives high reward as the Syrian conflict was not covered by most journalists due to the high risk of danger. The outcome was also good during the three times I have covered that war.
Photojournalism News: What would be your dream assignment?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: I do not see my work and future project as wishes or dreams. If I decided to do an assignment, I will go ahead and do it. Simple.
Photojournalism News: What are the essential skills/ qualities a photojournalist should have?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: Good skills to acquire in order to become a photojournalist is to have a keen sense of history, and especially in the countries one will be working in. A good historical understand of the region/country one will be operating in, is, in my opinion crucial to facilitate your work. Second, to be able to mingle and easily disappear within a society that is different from the one is coming from is also a crucial aspect of our work. Being low key means, less dangerous eyes upon you, and therefore increasing your chances in producing your work at the end. Being low key also means that the use of social media while on site is a mistake, and hence, the photojournalist in question needs to be humble and selfless.
Photojournalism News: What do you think about the digital manipulation of images?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: Rules are quite strict when it comes to manipulated your photos before it gets published. A few photojournalists have permanently damaged their careers doing this very thing. As a professional, you should be able to work your camera well enough, even manually, in all circumstances. I always work manually, even in combat situation.
Photojournalism News: What does it mean to be an ethical photojournalist?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: To be ethical is to be true and honest with the events happening around you while given them an historical context to which people can rely on in order to fully understand what is the overall context. I would add that removing all emotions from your work is important to also understand the story at end. Indeed, emotions are tricky has they blur your ability to properly access the developing story around. In fact, emotions should remain in the private world.
Photojournalism News: How do you see the role of photojournalism evolving in the world? Do you think photojournalism is losing its importance?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: The role of photojournalist need to return to its origins as it has strayed from its true purpose. Journalism as a whole has lost itself into becoming a political and propaganda tool, and photojournalism has followed suit. The role of a photojournalist is to report historical moments to the public. That’s it. We are not hear to create emotions for the sake of making people feel sad about the grim human condition. In fact, we are here to immerse ourselves in historical moments which shape what I like to call the great human experience, and therefore emotions and politics should not have a place in our work.
Photojournalism News: Do you have any advice for aspiring photojournalists?
Jonathan Alpeyrie: As the profession dwindles into a cash poor environment, the new generation of aspiring photojournalist will have to take into account that the heydays of photojournalist is now behind us. Indeed, the media no longer has the funds it once had, furthermore, you are competing with new technologies which makes amateurs compete with pros. With this in mind, the aspiring photojournalist needs to build over time a wide and strong relationship with many editors while producing work. This work needs to be pitched to the right editors on a regular basis in order to keep these relationship valuable. Also, it is crucial to choose your stories wisely, from stories that you know will sale because of the current timing, as well as doing stories which are close to your heart.
Jonathan Alpeyrie was born in Paris in 1979, moved to the United States in 1993. He started his career shooting for local Chicago newspapers during his study medieval history at the University of Chicago. He traveled the South Caucasus in 2001 for his first photo essay. His career spans over a decade, and has brought him to over 25 countries, covered 13 conflict zones assignments, in the Middle East and North Africa, the South Caucasus, Europe, North America and Central Asia. Alpeyrie has worked as a freelancer for various publications and websites, such as the Sunday Times, Le Figaro magazine, ELLE, American Photo, Glamour, Aftenposten, Le Monde, BBC, and today he is a photographer for Polaris Images.