James Nachtwey on the Importance of Photography in War

If James Nachtwey were a street photographer, he wouldn’t be the type to stand on the opposite sidewalk and stealthily capture unsuspecting strangers using a telephoto lens. As you can see from the photograph above, Nachtwey has a fearless attitude when shooting in dangerous situations, getting up close and personal with the subjects.

The photo is from a documentary titled “War Photographer” by Christian Fei, which was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Documentary Film) in 2002. The film follows Nachtwey for two years as he documents conflicts in Kosovo, Rawanda, Indonesia, and the West Bank.

Regarding what motivates him, Nachtwey reflects,

Why photograph war? Is it possible to put an end to 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.

Here’s a short scene in which Nachtwey “philosophizes on photography’s importance and responsibility to humanity”:

An interesting technique used in the film is the microcam video camera mounted on Nachtwey’s SLR, giving the viewer a “photographer eye” view of scenes as Nachtwey captures them.

To hear more from Nachtwey, you should also watch the talk he gave at TED 2007.

War Photographer (via Photojojo)

  • Daniel

    This documentary is a must see for any photographer. Reminds you that you can aspire to do more in your work than just make nice-looking pictures.

  • Lolovroom

    Very interesting. But I’m not sure I got the link between the guys “harvesting” sulfur in the Ijen volcano and the war images before. Sure those guys are having a hard job and they dye young. Guess it worth to see the whole thing.

  • //d.

    Yea, War Photographer is one of my all time favourite documentaries. Another good one is “shooting robert king”

    Nachtwey is such an inspiring person to listen to speak. his ted talk is definately worth checking out.

  • Ovidiu

    :) Isnt this funny. one guy with a machine gun and 3 photographers!? :)

  • kruemi

    And you are all sure, that the photo above is not staged in any way? IF there war real shooting, his attitude in the image above would not be fearless but suicidally stupid!

  • albert

    Nachtwey’s not stupid nor staged. He’s got more guts and courage than most people out there. 
    Watch his documentary, the scene where he’s shooting behind Palestinian boys throwing rocks at an Israeli command post is breathtakingly scary.