“Even in the age of television, still photography maintains a unique ability to grasp a moment out of the chaos of history and to preserve it and hold it up to the light. It puts a human face on events that might otherwise become clouded in political abstractions and statistics. It gives a voice to people who otherwise would not have one. If journalism is the first draft of history, then photography is all the more difficult, because in capturing a moment you don’t get a second chance.”
“Hundreds of years from now, when our descendents are trying to understand the time in which we are living, photography will be a crucial part of the record. In the present tense, photography is critical in helping create an atmosphere in which change is possible, not only possible but inevitable. It does this by making an appeal to people’s best instincts: generosity, the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, the willingness to identify with others, the refusal to accept the unacceptable. In the long run, photography enters our collective consciousness, and more important, our collective conscience. It becomes an archive of visual memory, so that we learn from the past and apply its lessons to the future.”- James Nachtwey
If the measure of a man is defined by his work and his words, James Nacthwey stands to be one of the most remarkable photographers of our time. Without a question Natchwey’s work is a leading example of excellence in war and humanitarian photography.
In the last years, Natchwey’s work has reached more distribution channels, with the publication of his book “Inferno” and the documentary “War Photographer” by Christian Frei. The book “Inferno” covers a range of humanitarian tragedies like Romanian orphans, Rwandand genocide victims, Indian untouchables, misery in Bosnia, Zaire, Chechenya, Kosovo etc. The images are excruciating and jet you can’t close the book, it captures your soul. This is the power of James Nachtwey’s work: the emotional component transcends the image while retaining unique artistic beauty. His exposure to the media has helped to create an aura of myth about the man who is trying to change the work with his photography.
In the words of James Nachtwey–
“Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior which has existed throughout history by means of photography? The proportions of that notion seem ridiculously out of balance. Yet, that very idea has motivated me. For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war and if it is used well it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war. In a way, if an individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war in order to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening, he is trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that is the reason why those in charge of perpetuating a war do not like to have photographers around. In the field what you experience is extremely immediate. What you see is not an image on a page in a magazine 10,000 miles away with an advertising for Rollex watches on the next page. What you see is unmedicated pain, injustice, and misery. It has occurred to me that if everyone could be there just once to see for themselves what white phosphorous does to the face of a child, or what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet, or how a jagged piece of shrapnel can rip someone’s leg off – if everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief, just one time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands. But everyone cannot be there, and that is why photographers go there, to show them, to reach out and grab them and make them stop what they are doing and pay attention to what is going on, to create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference, to protest, and by the strength of that protest to make others protest”- James Nachtwey monologue in the documentary War Photographer, reported here.