Thirty years in the making, photographer Gilles Peress’s 2,000-page ‘totality’ places scenes of everyday life in 70s and 80s Northern Ireland alongside harrowing images of violence and grief

When someone asks me what it was like growing up during the Troubles, I always find myself at a loss for an answer. Day-to-day life in Armagh was uneasy and anxious, but sometimes surreal and often repetitive. There were bombs and bomb scares, there was gunfire in the night, early morning raids by the security forces, and the wearying presence of British army foot patrols and their constant scrutiny. But there were also countless days when there was nothing to do and nowhere to go.

All this came to mind as I grappled with Whatever You Say, Say Nothing, a dauntingly ambitious photobook by Gilles Peress, a photographer whose visceral reportage from Iran, Rwanda and the Balkans has redefined the form. Nothing he has published so far, though, comes close to the epic scale of this almost Joycean attempt to “describe everything” about life as it unfolded during the long years of violence in Northern Ireland. Over 30 years in the making, it comprises two hefty volumes of images and an accompanying almanac of contextual material, entitled Annals of the North. Weighing 14kg and stretching to 2,000 pages, it is, to say the least, a grand statement.

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