The relationship between France and photography has been a strong one, dating back to when Nicéphore Niépce first invented the medium in the 1820s. That relationship produced prestigious photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Guy Bourdin, André Kertész, Marc Riboud and Raymond Depardon, among many others. It also attracted many others—like William Klein, Brassai and Robert Capa—to call France their adopted home.
There was a time when Paris was the center of the photographic business, with most photo agencies operating out of the French capital. (Magnum Photos, for example, was founded there in 1947.) Today, New York, London and Los Angeles compete with Paris for the title. But France's unconditional love of photography endures. As the country celebrates Bastille Day, TIME presents its choice of the most exciting French photographers working today.
For the past 18 months, William Daniels has dedicated most of his time to the Central African Republic, photographing its violent clashes in late 2013 and early 2014, as well as its fragile state since then. Daniels was the recipient of the Tim Hetherington Grant last December, which will help him fund several trips to the African country over the next nine months. “I’m doing this because I believe it’s important to bear witness to what’s going on there,” he says. “Plus, I think photography is a real conduit for emotion, and that’s important for me.”
A Year of War in Central African Republic
William Daniels—Panos for TIME
With his work Dark Lens, Cedric Delsaux has been labeled the “Star Wars photographer.” The French man Photoshopped the saga’s characters into real-world situations, creating a body of work that went viral a few years ago. This approach is indicative of Delsaux’s take on photography. “For a long time, we all believed that photographers were here to show reality, to reveal what had happened, but we’ve since realized that it wasn’t that simple,” he says. “Photography only reconstructs reality through a particularly convincing illusion.” His next project will revolve around cars, but it won’t be documentary: “I’ll look at the car as a metaphor,” he says. “I’ll use it to say something about us.”
Edouard Elias’ first foray into photojournalism was in Syria in 2012, where the young photographer was quickly noticed for his carefully composed style. After being taken hostage for 10 months, Elias has been reevaluating his profession. “What’s important for me aren’t the reasons or personal traumatisms that push us to make these choices where we sacrifice a lot, but how we behave as journalists on the field,” he says. “We have to remember that we’re always an added element that creates risks for the people we’re following.” That’s why Elias is now focusing on long-term projects, such as his recent documentation of the French Foreign Legion. “[My goal] is to create a real relationship with my subject,” he says.
See the French Foreign Legion in Central African Republic
Maia Flore sees photography as a conduit for her reveries. The resulting playful images depict her suspended in the air in Sleep Elevations, or donning a red outfit in quirky positions within mysterious landscapes in Situations. Through her photos, Flore invites viewers to share her surrealist take on life. The 27-year-old photographer now plans to turn to video and installations for her next projects. “I want to produce new ideas with different media,” she says.
For more than a year now, Capucine Granier-Deferre has been documenting the conflict in eastern Ukraine. “I have a special relationship with this region, a sort of bond, something that makes you want to tirelessly go back,” she tells TIME. The 31-year-old photographer, who will attend this year’s Joop Swart Masterclass, is now working on a more personal project on her family. But she remains committed to Ukraine, she says. “On the field, I feel like I’m face-to-face with human nature in its purest form. You’re facing death, but also life.”
“We live in a society that’s constantly inundated with images,” says 45-year-old Guillaume Herbaut. “With my work, I’m trying to make people stop for a few seconds so they start asking questions.” For many years, Herbaut documented places linked to major events from the 20th century, such as the Chernobyl disaster. Now, he’s gone back to newsier work in Ukraine, for example, and in his native France.
“I’m interested in the term ‘journalism’ in the word ‘photojournalism,’” says Julien Pebrel, a member of the Myop photo agency. “I’m interested in documenting territories, looking at subjects that are at the margins of breaking news, but still related to it.” For example, Pebrel’s latest work takes place in the southern Caucasus region where Russia continues to exert its influence. The work, he says, directly relates to the situation in Ukraine.
Paris Terror Attacks: One Tense, Mournful Week in Photos
Julien Pebrel—MYOP for TIME
Jerome Sessini has been a fixture of French photojournalism for more than 20 years now — he’s covered the conflict in Kosovo in the late 1990s, the Iraq war, the fall of Aristide in Haiti and the 2006 war in Lebanon. But it’s through his award-winning work in Ukraine over the past 18 months that he’s made a name for himself outside of industry circles. He was one of the first photographers on the scene of the Malaysia Airlines MH-17 crash last year, and he has often returned to Ukraine in the months since, producing one of the strongest bodies of work on the ongoing crisis.
See Scenes of Daily Life in a Ukrainian City Marked by War
Jerome Sessini—Magnum Photos
The French photojournalist started his career as a news photographer with the Gamma agency. Now, he’s moving away from the breaking news beat, concentrating on long-term projects in France and Israel, where he’s been documenting poverty and social inequalities. Terdjman is also the co-founder of the Dysturb movement, which pastes news photograph on the streets of Paris, New York, Sydney and many other cities, in a bid to reconnect the public with news events.