An almanac to the world of Gilles Peress’ Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, delineating the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
In Annals of the North, New York-based photographer Gilles Peress (born 1946) and writer and lawyer Chris Klatell combine essays, stories, photographs, documents and testimonies to open up for the reader the complicated and contradictory storylines that emerged from the conflict in the North of Ireland.
Weighed down by 800 years of colonisation but only the size of Connecticut (with half its population), Northern Ireland provides a remarkably intimate stage set. Interweaving text and image, Annals of the North examines the multifaceted struggle between Irish Republicans and Nationalists, Protestant Unionists and Loyalists, and the imperial British, to explore broader themes of empire, retribution and betrayal, as well as the tense dialectic between the ordinary demands of everyday life and periodic explosions of violence.
In 1970, the year he began shooting pictures, 24-year-old Gilles Peress was sent to Northern Ireland by his photo agency, Magnum. “They told me, Hurry up, there’s going to be trouble. But the trip was a fiasco. There were no riots, and I got no pictures.” Still, Peress kept going back, and in 1972 Gilles Peress was in Derry on Bloody Sunday. He witnessed the massacre, narrowly missed being shot, and took the pictures of 31-year-old Paddy Doherty moments before he was killed while trying to crawl to safety in front of the Rossville Flats. These pictures would eventually help prove the father of six’s innocence. The extraordinary compression of the human drama in what he calls a “theater of passion” inspired him to document in black and white very aspect of existence. He organized his photographs in chapters constructed as days—some composite, some real—and in 1994, when the IRA declared a cease-fire, he went back for one last chapter: A Day of Peace. To see Belfast afresh, he began shooting in colour. That trip led to several others, and to the pictures that follow. “It became a very long day,” Peress says. “As usual, peace and peacemaking in their meanderings are more murky than war.”
Wide-ranging yet deeply personal and political, alternately dense and humorous, legal and literary, Annals of the North is an almanac, not an academic history of the North of Ireland, offering a multiplicity of entry points into the North, and, by extension, into the geopolitics of the twentieth century and their impact on the people trapped in the gears of the machine.