PROFILE

Jérôme Sessini

On the Mexican/US border, a woman sits on the boot of her car, while her husband and five children relax around her. In the background is the ASARCO smelting facility in El-Paso, Texas.

For more than two decades, Canon Ambassador Jérôme Sessini has travelled the world covering breaking news stories, as well as working on long-term personal projects, including a series about the impact of the drug wars in Mexico. "On weekends in summer, the families of Ciudad Juárez [a Mexican border town] come to relax on the banks of the Rio Bravo at the boundary of the border between Mexico and the United States," says Jérôme of this 2009 image. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM) at 1/250 sec, f/11 and ISO100. © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos

Canon Ambassador Jérôme Sessini is a Magnum photographer who has covered some of the most significant events of the past 20 years. He also takes on long-term projects, studying the drug cartel wars on the Mexican/US border, the crisis in Ukraine  and America's ongoing battle with opioid addiction.

Through his lens, Jérôme has shot political upheaval, social rebellion and human struggle. His move to reportage came in 1998 when he was asked by the Gamma photo agency to cover the conflict in Kosovo. He's since been immersed in some of the most significant events of recent years, including the Iraq War, the fall of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004, the seizure of Somalian capital Mogadishu by Islamic militias, the war in Lebanon in 2006 and the ongoing conflict in Syria. His photographs have one common thread – they seek to dig below the news to capture scenes representing wider issues.
Born in Vosges, France in 1968, Jérôme was inspired by the works of the great American street documentary photographers Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander and, in particular, Mark Cohen. He came to photography late, at the age of 23, and is now a leading photojournalist in his own right, joining Magnum in 2012 and becoming a full member in 2016.

Photographing the victims of war has long been a driving force for Jérôme. "Ever since I was a kid, I've been interested in images, and when I was a teenager I also became fascinated by history," he explains. "Plus, I remember sitting with my parents and watching the wars of the time on the news. So photography seemed like the best way for me to be an artist on the one hand and a journalist on the other."
Canon Ambassador Jérôme Sessini.

Location: France

Specialist areas: Documentary

Favourite kit:  
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Three Honduras migrants – a woman and two men – wash themselves using limited facilities in Mexico City's Estadio Jesús Martínez Palillo baseball stadium during a water shortage in 2018.

Migrants from Central America bathe and brush their teeth during a water shortage at the Estadio Jesús Martínez Palillo baseball stadium, Mexico City, Mexico, in November 2018. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm, 1/250 sec, f/13 and ISO100. © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos

A red-headed young woman, bare from the waist up, sits with her back to the camera.

Model Bianca O'Brien, from Jérôme's series Solitude, a fashion photo essay shot in Athens, Greece, in September 2018. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO1600. © Jérôme Sessini

As well as his 'day job', Jérôme photographs people around his hometown in eastern France, shifting between their daily lives and the landscapes around them. He also takes part in longer-term projects, such as his So far from God, too close to the USA series, which focused on the impact of violence from the war between drug cartels in Mexico. Jérôme reveals that although each visit to a conflict zone has been challenging – with the time he spent in Syria in 2012 being particularly notable for how tough it was, both emotionally and in terms of danger – it has been the stories that he has followed in Mexico that have been most emotionally involving. So far from God, too close to the USA received a number of awards and was published in a book, The Wrong Side, in 2012. Since 2014, Jérôme has been regularly covering the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Jérôme's work has also been published in distinguished publications such as Time, De Standaard, Le Monde and Stern, and he has exhibited at the Visa pour l'Image International Festival of Photojournalism in Perpignan, France, at the Rencontres d'Arles festival, and the French Ministry of Culture. His photographs are more than photojournalism, as he is keen to point out: "I don't like rigid categories. Sometimes there is art in journalism and journalism in art. Conscience, heart, beauty, balance and loss of balance are essentials for me."
Against a smoky sky, an Orthodox priest holding aloft a large cross blesses the protesters on a barricade in Kiev, Ukraine.

An Orthodox priest blesses the protesters on a barricade in Kiev, Ukraine, in February 2014. "Unidentified snipers opened fire on unarmed protesters as they were advancing on Instytutska Street. According to an official source, 70 protesters were shot dead. Ukrainian riot police claimed that several policemen were wounded or shot dead by snipers as well," says Jérôme. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens at 1/125 sec, f/5 and ISO200. © Jérôme Sessini

Jérôme has also been nominated for a number of prestigious awards throughout his career, including the news category of the Visa d'Or awards for his work on Libya. His coverage of the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was taken out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile over the Ukraine in July 2014, saw him receive honours at the World Press Photo Awards 2015 (first prize, Spot News, Stories) and The Olivier Rebbot Award from the Overseas Press Club of America. Remarkably, Jérôme also won second prize in the same category at the World Press Photo Awards 2015 for his harrowing Final Fight for Maidan image.

Jérôme believes in the strength of photographs more than video when it comes to pricking the conscience of people, and he has led workshops designed to help a new generation of photographers to develop their own visual language for documentary and social photography.

You must have been uneasy during your first assignment in Kosovo in 1998. What was it about that experience that made you realise that documenting conflict was your calling?

"I was never attracted by danger. I was interested in being a witness to historic moments and political changes, and I realised that there was a gap between the way the media told stories and reality."

 

How do you decide on the range of lenses and equipment you'll take with you into an area of conflict?

"I try to be as light as possible. I use one body, and one lens – the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM."

 

How do you manage the day-to-day workflow when you're in violent or war-torn regions?

"When I work on assignment, the main challenge is to find a fast internet connection. I edit my work daily, and I carry out light post-production on my laptop. But I prefer to focus on long-term projects, such as the Mexico and Ukraine stories, so I have more time to both edit the pictures afterwards and produce small prints to display on my wall."

 

Has there ever been a point where you felt the need to stop taking pictures and intervene in a situation – or looking back, wish you had?

"No, I don't have any regrets. Most of the places I've worked during the past 15 years were very challenging in terms of getting access and taking pictures, and I just don't take pictures when I feel it could potentially put the people I'm photographing at risk."

 

How do you manage to put everything behind you once you're back at home?

"It takes me a week to switch to 'normal life', then I start editing."

One thing I know

Jérôme Sessini

"Consider using subtraction rather than addition to make pictures better. I do admit that at the beginning of my career, I used to be motivated by ego, simply willing to be in places where few other people could get to. But this motivation quickly changed; the more time I spent witnessing conflicts, the more responsible I became. My photographic approach developed into a more honest depiction, removing the superfluous and seeking the truth."


Instagram: @jeromesessini

Twitter: @jeromesessini

Website: www.magnumphotos.com/photographer/jerome-sessini/

Jérôme Sessini's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

kitbag

Cameras

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Trusted by the pros, tough and yet relatively light, the EOS 5D Mark IV is ideal for stills or video – making it great for reportage. "The Mark IV is the perfect tool – very solid and reliable," says Jérôme. "I use this camera for 100% of my assignments – fashion, corporate or any situation that needs a solid camera."

Canon EOS R

A pioneering full-frame mirrorless camera that sets new standards. "My favourite camera for my personal long-term projects," says Jérôme.

Lenses

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional everyday L-series zoom that delivers high image quality with a constant f/2.8 aperture. Jérôme says: "I shoot 90 per cent of my images with this lens. The best trans-standard zoom ever in term of quality, lightness and focus speed."

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

This versatile lens gives great results in portrait work and handheld movie-making, thanks to its ability to achieve a shallow depth of field with beautiful bokeh. "I like to use it for close-up portraits and details," says Jérôme. "It gives incredible sharpness and colours."

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Chosen by many professionals for portrait work, this lens is valued for its fine control over focus and depth of field. "I love this lends for portraits and landscapes," says Jérôme.

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

A compact pancake lens with a fast aperture that is great for travel and general photography. Jérôme says: "This is a great lens for street photography as it's so light. I often mount it on the EOS R with an adapter."

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