Jonathan Alpeyrie has photographed 14 conflict zones across 36 countries over the past decade, placing himself in the line of fire to document the complexities of the human condition at war. He survived 81 days held hostage by Syrian rebels before being released on a $500,000 ransom paid by a politically motivated businessman.
Alpeyrie moved to the U.S. in 1993 and shot his first photo essay in 2001 while traveling to the South Caucasus. Working in the Congo in the early 2000s, the Paris-born photographer had his photo essays picked up by Getty Images in 2003 and signed a contributor contract with the visual media company in 2004. In 2009, Alpeyrie joined Polaris Images as well as Sipa Press in Paris. He has published work in countless news sources and magazines including Newsweek, CNN, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, and many more.
A Duggal Visual Solutions printing client for roughly 15 years, Alpeyrie is now partnering with our e-commerce arm, Shop Duggal, to make his prints available for purchase online. Learn more about Alpeyrie’s poignant experiences and perspective in this Duggal-exclusive interview.
How did you get into photography? Why war photography, specifically?
With many of my family members having served in World War I and World War II, I was introduced to the concept of greater conflict at a young age. My father would read war stories to me, and as I got older, the interest stuck with me and I gravitated to the idea of capturing images of war and conflict.
What is your approach to photographing in the field?
Early in my career, I shot mostly wide angle. But with time, I found that my best images were with a 35mm f/1.2 or especially a 50mm f/1.2 lens, the latter of which is the main lens I use now. The switch transformed my photography because it forced me to focus on composition, resulting in very powerful details. I shoot and focus manually, never automatic, allowing me to adapt rapidly.
How do you tell a story visually?
I learned this skill working for Getty Images, where I created photo essays and had to build a new story and, in many ways, a human-interest story, from one image to the next. With Getty, I would shoot and file daily, so it was very fast-paced as is the war environment itself. I’ve also been writing more and more as the media business has evolved.
Are there any people or places that stick with you?
In 2004 and then again in 2020, I documented the war in Armenia. That was actually my first war zone as a photojournalist, with the same conflict continuing between Armenia and Azerbaijan. That region, the South Caucasus, has always made a strong impact on me. War has been a way of life there since the 4th century or earlier, and you can feel the deep history of conflict today both in the structures you see and the people you meet.
Through your lens, how do you view the world and its conflicts?
The main reason I do this is for historical documentation. We have a brief moment in time on this planet and I would like to document as much as possible. I tend to see the world in an unemotional way. Emotions are extremely intricate and complex. To be practical is to be reasonable in terms of processing and capturing historical moments. I don’t try to judge what people do, why they fight, or why they run. There are a lot of people having a tough time on this planet. I just want to understand what’s happening and what it means for the future.
How do you preserve your passion while making a living with photography?
When you are career-driven, you make practical decisions. There are some jobs where you prioritize compensation and others where you prioritize passion. The former can help support the latter, and you want to have a balance of both. The photojournalism profession as a whole has become very challenging with how haywire the media has gotten. We’re living in an age of disinformation, which is ironic because we have more tools yet less understanding than ever. But for me, it all goes back to documenting and processing moments in history.
Why do you choose Duggal to be your go-to printer and now your e-commerce partner?
I’ve gone to Duggal for exhibition prints without hesitation for many years and always appreciate the quality and attention to detail. We’ve now created a selection of well-known images that Duggal will produce for people who buy prints on my site, which helps me fulfill my own purpose and the purpose of the images to document history in real time. People may typically buy prints that are softer on the eyes, but there is something to be said for recognizing what I call the Great Human Experience that can be so rattling and conflicted at times.
See more and order gallery-quality printing of Jonathan Alpeyrie’s work on his website, www.jonalpeyrie.com.