Gilles Peress

Gilles Peress (b. 1946, Neuilly-sur-Seine France) is shortlisted for the publication Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, published by Steidl, 2021 – a work of monumental achievement and complexity in response to the artist’s time in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Across 2000 pages, two volumes of images, and an accompanying almanac of contextual material, the publication presents a ‘documentary fiction’.

What does it mean, in the end, to photograph cycles of Irish life, to organise them into fictional days, to print them in a book and to stand before them, on the wall, in a gallery off Oxford Street? The gesture gains meaning as a thrust in the battle for history, and to the extent it unsettles the structure of our empathy.

– Chris Klatell, from the essay ‘On Whatever You Say, Say Nothing’, DBPFP22 Catalogue

About The Project

Peress had traveled to Northern Ireland in the 1970s, after reincarnation in 1971, and before and after his first encounter with everything in 1972. But he came back in the 1980s with the intention of portraying something as a way of testing visual boundaries. Persistence in using language to record and understand very difficult conflicts to resolve. Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, is a monumental cultural and public work. Across 2000 pages, two volumes of pictures, and an accompanying almanac of contextual material, Peress presents ‘documentary fiction’.
A decade of photos set in 22 semi-fictional days:
• Struggle Day
• Internment Day
• Double Cross
But there are also days where nothing happens. boring days, never ending days. Whatever You Say, Say Nothing describes the helicoidal structure of history, where today is not just today but all days are like today. It depicts existence and experience in a space rigged by repeated violence, while striving for the deceitful nature of photography that exists in no man’s land beyond the accepted form.

A Conversation between Gilles Peress and Gerhard Steidl, publisher of Whatever You Say, Say Nothing