James Nachtwey

"Am I profiting off of someone else's misfortune?"

When I think of what I imagine to be the prototypical photojournalist, mentally physically and emotionally, James Nachtwey fits that mold perfectly. He's stoic, very measured with his words and in control of his emotions. Watching him in "War Photographer" was definitely something different.

We often hear about and research these photographers that are in the field working but I feel like its rare that we get to actually watch them while they work to see how they approach making some of their images.

James throughout the whole documentary shot exclusively on the canon camera system and interchanged a 24-70 L lens and a wider angle lens on a smaller body which I'm assuming was a 16-35 or something alike. Both bodies were automatic which works perfectly for his shooting style because what he lacks in words, he makes up for in images shot. He almost shoves himself right in the middle of everything that's happening and will stand there, sometimes for minutes without shooting waiting to get the perfect image.

Professor Sternbach made a remark in class when I mentioned Nachtwey interested me, the same comment that all his friends and colleagues in the documentary eluded to when they were asked about him. James is a very different kind of person. He threw himself into his work and sacrificed having domestic friends or building a family in order to have the career that he accomplished, it's not something he ever spoke on himself. All of his friends also noted he has this hard shell exterior allowing him to place himself in these locations of hardship time and time again, that and holding on to optimistic (but in my opinion futile) ideals that one day there will be no war and his pictures will cure the worlds ailments.


With his huge body of work and all of his accomplishments to date something that still bothers Nachtwey is the fact that he's placing himself in areas of the world that he's not typically from to create these images of people that he does not know. He remarked a few times that it's so different actually being in these situations of famine and war to experience them yourself or reading them in a book, contrasting an adjacent page with a rolex watch advertisement. It bugs him that he's profiting off of other people's misfortunes but he tries to compensate for this by making sure everyone sees their images published, building a connection with the local people or the people in the environments he's working and being extremely respectful to his subjects.





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