PROFILE

Paolo Pellegrin

A black-and-white image of a young girl sitting on a woman's lap in the back of a car. Palm trees and a cloudy sky can be seen in the car window's reflection.

Canon Ambassador Paolo Pellegrin has been documenting conflicts and natural disasters around the world for more than 30 years. In this image taken in Tyre, southern Lebanon, in July 2006, a woman and a young girl are seen arriving in the city, having been forced to flee their village due to Israeli airstrikes. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM) at 35mm, 1/160 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Paolo Pellegrin

Canon Ambassador and Italian photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin is responsible for some of the most astonishing humanitarian photographs of the past three decades and has documented major conflicts around the globe. His images capture the sheer tragedy and trauma of wars and natural disasters, with the aim of drawing attention to people in crisis.
Predominantly shooting in black and white to "strip away a layer of reality", the prolific photographer's style is inspired by his contemporaries Josef Koudelka and Eugene Richards, and echoes the groundbreaking work of Magnum Photos' founding fathers, Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Paolo, himself a member of Magnum Photos since 2005, was also a contract photographer for Newsweek for 10 years and was represented by Agence Vu in Paris from 1991 to 2001.

Via these outlets, Paolo's hard-hitting photo essays have spotlighted those in intense danger or difficulty, including poverty-stricken children in post-war Bosnia, the AIDS epidemic in Uganda and Cambodia, the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Libyan refugee crisis, the aftermath of tsunamis in Indonesia and earthquakes in Haiti, as well as the collateral damage of conflict in Israel, Palestine and Darfur.
A black-and-white headshot of Canon Ambassador and photojournalist Paolo Pellegrin.

Location: London, Geneva
Specialist area: Photojournalism
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
A car is reflected in the window of a busy market in Centro Habana, Havana Cuba.

Although Paolo feels "more at home" shooting in black and white, his colour photography is just as striking. This image was captured in Centro Habana, a borough in the Cuban city of Havana, in 2012 and shows a market bustling with people. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/80 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Paolo Pellegrin

"I believe in the importance of collecting visual records for our collective memory, to promote understanding and also, in some cases, for reasons of accountability," he says. "There are always many challenges – ethical, moral – of representation. I am very sensitive to these issues and try to do the best I can, and learn and improve as I go along."

Born in Rome in 1963, Paolo initially trained to become an architect, his parents' profession, before pursuing his own path studying photography at Rome's Istituto Italiano di Fotografia (IIF). Today, he is one of the world's most celebrated photojournalists, having won 10 World Press Photo awards, a Leica Medal of Excellence, an Olivier Rebbot Award, the Hansel-Mieth-Preis, the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography, the Robert Capa Gold Medal and the Dr. Erich Salomon Award.
A black-and-white image of farmers fleeing with their sheep from ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq in 2016. Above them, thick black smoke fills the air.

Farmers flee with their sheep from ISIS-controlled areas of Iraq in 2016. Above them, thick black smoke fills the air, the result of oil field fires deliberately set by members of the Islamic State. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/1000 sec, f/11 and ISO640. © Paolo Pellegrin

"I think the main highlight of my career is when I feel I have done my absolute best to honour a project, a story, and its people," he says. "I come from a tradition of work with film where technically you needed to be very precise. I follow the idea, the Bressonian idea, that an image must be 'solved' in-camera when shooting. So I put a lot of effort into producing a file that is formally and compositionally precise, which doesn't need much post-processing work at all."

To date, Paolo has created 10 acclaimed books and has exhibited his work extensively. "I'm approaching an age where, while still very much working on new projects, I'm also trying to make sense of nearly 30 years of past work," he says. "In this respect, I'm working on a couple of comprehensive exhibitions and books."
Lots of your images are monochrome – why is that?

"I shoot a lot of colour too, but it's true that black and white is where I feel more at home. I think it's about being part of a lineage or tradition of photographers, who mainly worked in black and white. It also removes a layer of 'reality', and speaks in more symbolic terms."


What has been the most important lesson you've learned during your career?

"Working in the field with photographers I admire was, and is, a constant lesson of example. Humility and what in French is called 'pudeur' [modesty and restraint through shame or tact] before the suffering of others has become a cornerstone of what I do."


How does your kitbag vary depending on assignment?

"For a conflict zone, I need a first-aid kit, body armour, etc, but for other shoots it's very different. Currently I'm doing a global warming project and I'm using long telephoto lenses which normally I very rarely use."


How do you like to shoot?

"My process is really simple; I usually set the camera to monochrome and shoot either manual or aperture priority. In fast, dynamic situations I use full program which I find very good."


How do you decide what or who to photograph?

"Again, it depends on the nature of the project. If it's an assignment I would say there's a tension, in a positive and creative sense, between things that are needed for the story and just wandering and discovering without a plan."

One thing I know

Paolo Pellegrin

"Despite having been technically simplified by digital, the language of photography is complex and takes time to acquire. So my advice would be to give yourself time to learn how to 'speak' photographically. This is a process that is obviously never-ending – a bit like learning a foreign language. It can take many years and a lot of hard work to begin to master it."

Instagram: @paolopellegrin

Facebook: Paolo Pellegrin Studio

Website: www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/paolo-pellegrin

Paolo Pellegrin's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Paolo Pellegrin's kitbag containing Canon cameras, lenses and accessories.

Cameras

Canon EOS R5

A lightweight, compact and ergonomic camera. "The files are beautiful and rich," says Paolo. "But maybe the most striking feature is the autofocus. I have never experienced anything similar; it's very fast and accurate, with an almost magical tracking quality. Once it locks onto the desired subject, it keeps tracking it with extreme precision throughout the frame."

Lenses

Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM

A super-fast and bright lens that gives stunning results even in low light. Paolo says: "Throughout my career I have always used prime lenses, but the range and quality of the new zooms is so good that I find myself using them more and more."

Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM

The RF lens that sets new standards in photographic performance, delivering supreme sharpness, extra creative control and a low-light performance that's simply remarkable. "This lens is extraordinary," says Paolo.

Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM

An essential lens in the professional trio of zooms, the RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is the perfect companion for news, sport and travel. Paolo says: "The new class of lenses are fast and of exceptional quality when fully open."

Accessories

Canon Speedlite 600EX II-RT

Engineered for fast frame rate shooting, this flashgun performs in the most demanding situations. "For the most part I work with ambient light, but sometimes I use flash to control and transform the lighting of a situation," says Paolo.

Canon Extender RF 2x

The Canon Extender RF 2x offers sharpness and versatility with 2x extra magnification to double the reach of compatible RF telephoto lenses and zooms.

A book

"Always physical books, not ebooks, are another must. For inspiration, for pleasure, for study, for everything really," Paolo says.

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