Harry Gruyaert – Between Worlds

Review by Melanie Chapman ·

Camera, Color, Cacophony, Collage: the Magic of Discovery through Harry Gruyaert’s eyes.

Between Worlds, the newest (and one of the best) Thames and Hudson publication(s) of Harry Gruyaert’s photography, is an impressive showcase for his well-earned reputation as a master colorist and confirms Gruyaert’s gift for creating beautiful visual puzzles.

Throughout his 40+ year career spanning locations as far ranging as Mali, Russia, Tunisia, and France, Gruyaert has eschewed preconceptions and works in a “completely intuitive” manner. Possessing visual instincts similar to that of the late great Henri Cartier-Bresson, (co-founder and fellow member of MAGNUM photo agency) Gruyaert’s images expand on Bresson’s influence with the inclusion of found color and elevate what it means to be a “street photographer.” Between Worlds presents 75 full page color images (made between 1975 and 2021), highlighting Gruyaert’s fascination with fragmentation and reflections. 

Creating in-camera what a lesser artist would be lucky to manipulate with layering in photoshop, Gruyaert’s photographs deconstruct standard documentary imagery and reveal the collage-like beauty of our modern culture.  Stylistically, Gruyaert manages both a “straight approach” by presenting moments as they exist, yet also offers his spin on the “pictorialism” tradition by utilizing his camera to record unique and in some instances Cubist-like compositions. Contradictions of time, space, and dimension coexist with the beauty of visual chaos and amplify Gruyaert’s artistry. 

As a photographer who “hates feeling trapped”, Gruyaert rarely photographs interiors. Rather he looks through mirrors and windows, offering graphic slices of city life that intersect with gestures of intimacy and isolation. Sunlight pours in to darkened churches and restaurants; trees impose shadows on brightly painted facades; the lines of doorways and other man-made structures create pictures within pictures; human figures walk ghostly in and out of frame. 

As a reviewer, it is hard to write anything not already said more eloquently in David Campany’s excellent essay. Rarely has the marriage of written word and expansive visual risk-taking been so satisfying.  Between Worlds is thus best enjoyed by embracing his excitement for the power of color, shape, timing, discovery. Through Gruyaert’s eyes, and the brilliant editing of Between Worlds, we seek not answers to what we are looking at. Rather, we delight in being presented with intriguing and playful questions.

Post script: In doing research for this review, I stumbled upon an excellent documentary HARRY GRUYAERT: Photographer. This 65 minute film by Jurgen Buedts can be rented on Vimeo, and is an excellent overview of Gruyaert’s life and his work. 


Harry Gruyaert has been featured previously on PhotoBook Journal: IndiaLast Call, and Edges.


Melanie Chapman is a Contributing Editor and a Southern California photographer.


Between Worlds, Harry Gruyaert

Photographer: Harry Gruyaert, born Antwerp 1941, resides in Paris, France

Publisher: Thames and Hudson, first published in UK 2022, in US 2023, copyright 2022, original edition in French Atelier EXB, Paris c.2022

Essay: David Campany 

Text: English

Hardcover book, stitched binding, 144 pages, 75 color photographs, Printed and bound in Belgium,  ISBN 978-0-500-02575-8


Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are copyright of the authors and publishers.

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