The previous post highlighting the 2011 Military Photographer of the Year was a positive look into an industry that's been part of humanity since men first learned to fashion tools and weapons. But don't let that fool you; war has always been a deplorable and gruesome solution for victors and losers alike. A lot of images depicted war are too censored or edited to provide a real glimpse into the violence, but photojournalist and war photographer James Nachtwey sidesteps all of the romanticism of armed conflict and get to the heart of the shadows of war. (WARNING: SOME OF THE IMAGES IN THIS POST ARE EXTREMELY GRAPHIC).
James Nachtwey is one of this generation's most well-known war photographers. His images have been published in Time Magazine, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, and countless other journals and news media. He was a member of the prestigious photography guild Magnum Photos and has received numerous awards for his outstanding work depicting the harsh conditions in conflict-torn countries.
Nachtwey graduated with a degree in Art History and Political Science, but seeing images from the Vietnam War moves him so much that he decided to become a photographer. He worked at different jobs while teaching himself photography, and since the 1980s he has covered wars and famines in South America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.
Since 1984, he has been a contract photojournalist with Time. On most occasions, the magazine sends him on assignment to areas of conflict or distress to cover events that had already been known to the general public (such as the Rwandan Genocide or the Kosovo War). For other stories though (such as the famine in Somalia), Nachtwey financed the trips himself because no magazines or organizations showed enough interest in the story to back him up.
Nachtwey's photographs are eerily intimate; he gets in close to his subjects, but not without their consent. In most cases, he becomes an accepted part of the landscape and situation he's entrenched, becoming a silent but powerful witness to the horrors that humanity can bring on fellow men.
During the few times that he's compelled to speak, Nachtwey is no less convincing than his images. His words are brief, but moving, and always about the deplorable state of his subjects.
Nachtwey's photographs are not beautiful. They depict the worst cases of war, disease, famine and genocide, all of which people would rather not talk about, let alone see, yet they need to be recorded for posterity so that those in power may be moved towards action.
For Nachtwey, the motivation to capture the deeds of war has only gotten stronger over the years. In his own words, "As man has become increasingly civilized, his means of destroying his fellow man have become ever more efficient, cruel and devastating. 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."
This is James Nachtwey's website. His 2007 TED Talk is a good way to familiarize yourself about his work in the shadows of war and famine. Some of his images appear in the books, Deeds of War and Humanity in War: Frontline Photography since 1860. His documentary film, War Photographer is also still available.