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French Kiss, a love letter to Paris © Peter Turnley
French Kiss, a love letter to Paris © Peter Turnley | Image source internet

Peter Turnley

Peter N. Turnley (born 1955) is an American and French photographer known for documenting the human condition and current events. He is also a street photographer who has lived in and photographed Paris since 1978.

Turnley’s photographs have been used on the cover of Newsweek more than forty times. He and his twin brother, the photographer David C. Turnley, were the subjects of a biographical 60 Minutes piece Double Exposure, which aired during their exhibition, In Times of War and Peace at New York’s International Center of Photography in 1996.


Turnley first began photographing in 1972 in his hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. With his twin brother David, he spent a year photographing the life of the inner-city, working-class McClellan Street. This work was published in 2008 by Indiana University Press. In 1975, the Office of Economic Opportunity of the State of California hired Turnley to produce a photographic documentary on poverty in California.

After an initial sojourn of eight months in Paris in 1975 to 1976, Turnley moved there in 1978. He began working as a printer at the photography lab, Picto. At the same time, he began photographing street scenes in Paris, which resulted in the book Parisians (2001). He began working as the assistant to the photographer Robert Doisneau in 1981 and with Doisneau’s introduction to Raymond Grosset, the director of the Rapho photo agency, Turnley became a member of Rapho, working alongside many of the photographers of the French school of humanist photography. He became associated with the Black Star photo agency and was mentored by its director Howard Chapnick. As Paris-based contract photographer for Newsweek from 1984 to 2001, Turnley’s photographs appeared on its cover 43 times. In 2003, he began producing eight-page quarterly photo-essays for Harper’s Magazine.


Turnley has photographed world conflicts including the Gulf War, Bosnian War, Somali Civil War, Rwandan genocide, South Africa under apartheid, First Chechen War, Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan, Kosovo War, and Iraq (2003). During the end of the Cold War (1985–1991) Turnley photographed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev more than any other Western journalist. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, Nelson Mandela’s walk out of prison after 27 years incarceration, and the ensuing end of apartheid in South Africa. Turnley was also present in New York City at “Ground Zero” on September 11, 2001, and in New Orleans during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He photographed the election and inauguration of President Barack Obama and produced a multimedia piece on this occasion for CNN.

In 2015, Turnley was the first American artist since the Cuban revolution to be given a major exposition at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana.


In 2020, Turnley created a visual diary in New York City and Paris, France, which resulted in a book “A New York-Paris Visual Diary: The Human Face of Covid-19. A selection of this work was a headline exhibition at the International Photojournalism Festival Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan, France in 2020

Published on November 2, 2021
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