Tag Archives: War Photographer

Photographers

Loving this short film montage by Mishka Henner and David Oates, collectively known as BlackLab. By extracting and resequencing hundreds of movie scenes featuring photographers, Photographers explores the tropes of the photographer on screen from voyeur, to fashion photographer, investigator or war photographer. Beyond the fun of trying to figure out what films were used for the montage, this is also a fascinating deconstruction of the mythology of the photographer.

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Interviews and Talks | November 2012

Photojournalism_Links

Video of Steve McCurry shooting the Pirelli calendar…

Steve McCurry  : Pirelli Calendar 2013 behing the scenes video (Telegraph) ‘The world’s most beautiful women, including Karlie Kloss, Petra Nemcova and a heavily pregnant Adriana Lima, cover up for photojournalist Steve McCurry’s Pirelli Calendar.’

Steve McCurry’s Iconic Photographs #1 (Phaidon)

Steve McCurry’s Iconic Photographs #2 (Phaidon)

Steve McCurry (Art Space)

Steve McCurry  (YouTube) ‘Steve McCurry shares his expertise and opinions on shooting documentary photography’

Tyler Hicks on working in Gaza.

Photo © Tyler Hicks

Tyler Hicks : Working in Gaza (NYT Lens) ‘A Responsibility to Photograph, and Remember’

Bernat Armangué : The war in Gaza: photographing the conflict (Guardian) ‘Associated Press photographer Bernat Armangué tells the story behind some of his images that have featured on front pages around the world in the last week’

Don McCullin trying out Canon gear in this 27 minute video on the CPN site.

Don McCullin (CPN)  “The love affair I’ve had with photography has been total commitment and I’ve not taken any short cuts to do it.”

Don McCullin : The Art of Seeing (Guardian) ‘For the veteran war photographer, emotional awareness is the most important aspect of photography’

Don McCullin Reflects on a Career of Chasing Haunting Images (PetaPixel)

Barbara Davidson (PhotoShelter Vimeo) Luminance 2012

Photographers and NGOs : When Interest Creates a Conflict (NYT Lens) ‘Ethical Questions Raised by Photographing for NGOs’

Sebastiano Tomada Piccolomini (Al Jazeera) ‘Scenes from a Syrian city under siege : An audio slideshow from Aleppo by a photographer who spent two harrowing weeks dodging bullets to cover the conflict.’

Crosses mark a field where the bodies of murdered women were dumped in Ciudad Juarez during the 1990s. (Eros Hoagland)

Conflict Photographer Eros Hoagland on His Dangerous Craft (Daily Beast)

Michael Christopher Brown (New Yorker Photo Booth) HBOs Witness: Libya

Photographers Amid Chaos (NYT) On HBOs Witness series

Miguel Medina : Up close and personal with the Syrian rebels (AFP Correspondent blog)

Massoud Hossaini (scmp.com) ‘What’s behind a Pulitzer Prize winning photo?’

Tomas van Houtryve (Oslo Freedom Forum)

Ashley Gilbertson and Ed Kashi (smdlr)

Robin Hammond on his Zimbabwe work.

Photo © Robin Hammond

Robin Hammond (RFI English)

Robin Hammond (Arte TV) NB in French

Old John G Morris interview on C-Span.

John G Morris (C-Span)

I don’t have an iPad, so haven’t experienced using Reuters’ The Wider Image app, but it does look very nice..

Reuters’ Jassim Ahmad on ‘The Wider Image’ photography app (CPN)

Lisa Wiltse (PDN) ‘Breakout Photo Essay of the Year: Lisa Wiltse’s Charcoal Kids of Ulingan’

Scout Tufankjian on the photo of the Obamas hugging which went viral after the Obama campaign tweeted on the election night…

Photo © Scout Tufankjian for Obama for America

Scout Tufankjian, the photographer of the ‘Most-Liked Photograph of All Time’ (Slate)

Laura Olin :  The Photo the Obama Campaign Almost Used for Its Victory Tweet (Slate) ‘How did the Obama campaign decide to use that photo of Barack and Michelle Obama hugging to accompany its victory tweet? The photo that became the most-retweeted, most liked photo in social media history? Campaign social media honcho Laura Olin filled Slate in by email on the gametime decision—and showed us the photo that almost made the cut.’

Damon Winter on photographing Obama in 2008 and 2012 (NYT) ‘A Face More Careworn, a Crowd Less Joyful’

Fascinating video of Stephen Wilkes talking about his Day to Night project…

Coney Island. Photograph © Stephen Wilkes

Stephen Wilkes and his Day to Night project (CBS video on PetaPixel)

Jim Urquhart : Portraying polygamy (Reuters Photographers blog)

Brian Finke  (LA Times Framework blog) ‘reFramed: In conversation with Brian Finke’

David Alan Harvey on the Vogue Italy site.

David Alan Harvey (Vogue Italy)

Elliott Erwitt (Art Space)

Peter Marlow on photographing English cathedrals (Magnum)

Magnum Photographers Ian Berry, Stuart Franklin and Peter Marlow describe their work featured in Magnum Revolution, 65 Years of Fighting for Freedom. (YouTube)

High and Low: Jim Goldberg’s Works in Process (Lightbox)

Harry Gruyaert’s best photograph – waiting for a Belgian parade (Guardian)

Photo © Samuel Aranda

Samuel Aranda’s best photograph: a woman protects her son (Guardian)

Gideon Mendel (BBC)

Pieter Hugo (YouTube)

Photo © Joel Meyerowitz

Joel Meyerowitz  (NYT) ‘A Restless Lifetime of Paying Attention’

Joel Meyerowitz : A Question of Color — Answered (NYT Lens)

Taking His Time: A Look Back at 50 Years of Joel Meyerowitz’s Photographs (Lightbox)

Joel Meyerowitz : ‘brilliant mistakes … amazing accidents’  (Guardian) | The photographer, best known for his 9/11 pictures, talks about his new book, which celebrates his 50 years of finding the ‘wow’ factor in everyday places

Joel Meyerowitz interview by Olivia Bee : ‘The Young Gun Meets the Living Legend’ (Vice)

Fred R. Conrad on photographing Meyerowitz (NYT Lens)

Lauren Greenfield on the Bait and Switch of “The Queen of Versailles” and the Importance of Good Cinematography (Documentary Channel blog)

Paul Moakley (rereveal.com)

Larissa Leclair : The Indie Photobook Library (Lightbox)

Isa Leshko (PDN) ‘Sustaining a Long-Term Photo Project’

Photographer Daniel Beltrá on his Greenpeace mission to the Arctic (Guardian) audio slideshow

Two part Ben Lowy interview on A Photo Editor.

Photo © Ben Lowy

Ben Lowy – Part 1 Part 2 (A Photo Editor)

In conversation with the writer Pete Brook of Prison Photography and WIRED. (Phonar)

Crossing Paths with Niall McDiarmid (BBC)

Sony World Photography awards Student Focus winner Asef Ali Mohammad shares his hopes and fears as he starts his career in photography  (Guardian) ‘What is life like for emerging student photographers?’

How Iwan Baan got his amazing NYC/Hurricane Sandy cover for the New York Magazine.

Cover photo © Iwan Baan

Architecture photographer Iwan Baan explains how he got that New York magazine cover shot (Poynter)

New York Magazine director of photography Jody Quon on Baan’s cover (Time Lightbox Tumblr)

Great Reuters TV video of their photographers describing documenting Sandy and its aftermath

Screen Shot 2012-11-30 at 15.14.32

Reuters photographers show images of the devastation caused by hurricane Sandy  (Reuters TV) ‘A witness to Sandy’s wrath’

Andrew Burton : photographing Sandy (ABC News)

Levon Biss on photographing Mario Balotelli (Lightbox)

Melissa Golden (Digital Photo Pro)

John Delaney on Hoboken, New Jersey (BJP)

In My Bag – by Daniel Berman (Photo Brigade)

In My Bag – by David Welker (PB)

Rémi Ochlik’s Revolutions

“War is worse than drugs. One moment it’s a bad trip, a nightmare. But the next moment, as soon as the immediate danger has passed, there is an overpowering desire to go back for more. To risk one’s life in order to get more pictures in return for not very much. It is an incomprehensible force that pushes us to keep going back in.”

Rmi Ochlik, 2004

This spring, after French war photographer Rmi Ochlik was killed during fighting in Homs, Syria, a group of close friends and colleagues felt their obligations to the photographer weren’t complete. Meeting aboard a TGV train on their way to Paris from the World Press awards ceremony in Amsterdam in late April, the group took stock of everything that had happened since Rmi’s death. find personal injury attorney . His photographs had spoken for themselves when exhibited in tribute in Amsterdam. The large circle of friends gathered in his name was a testament to his character; he was always the guy who would make friends sharing a cigarette. But one duty remained unfinishednot a tribute, nor a memorial, but a commitment to continue what was and what should have been in Rmi’s life.

Now, five months later, Revolutions is finisheda book of 144 pages, across which Rmi’s photographs of the Arab Spring spread forth. The tome depicts hope, anger, celebration and fearsome of humanity’s most powerful emotions recorded in photographsand feelings the photographer undoubtedly felt during a career cut short by the harsh realities often facing those documenting armed conflict.

Scattered through this visual record of Rmi’s witness are the words of friends, which encompass close confidants, long-time coworkers and fellow photographers. Their testimonies are short, speaking to the memories of a man killed at a time and place in the world many photographers hesitated to cover.

Ochlikbegan his photography of the Arab Spring in Tunisiaand so the book does the same. “It is impressive to see the ease with which he moves through the street as the rocks fly everywhere,” writes Julien De Rosa of his shared time with Rmi outside Tahrir Square in Cairo. “This is clearly his natural environment.”

Rmi, considered by colleagues an old-school photographer despite his youngage (29), moved with confidence and resolve through the borders of conflict in the Middle East. This is what makes his death that much more painful, for at his age and with his skill, his potential had seemed limitless.

“Be safe, okay?” were the last words that Gert Van Langendonck told Rmi before his final trip to the besieged city of Homs. “You’ve already won your World Press Photo.” And indeed Rmi’s work was deserving of high honorhis story from Libya earned him first prize in the 2012 World Press Photo competition’s General News category. His photographic eye was strongstrengthening, evenas he entered Syria. A vision deserving of high honor, cut short by a barrage of shelling that also killed American correspondent Marie Colvin.

Rmi was often aware that he didn’t have a personal project in the works, Van Langendonck told TIME. Personal projects provide an outlet for photographers to explore their interests outside of commissioned editorial work, allowing for an inner-consistency even as a photographer’s surroundings are rapidly changing. So caught up in his work, Remi didn’t need it “I’ve never had so many of my pictures published in my life,” he told Van Langendonck.

After paying the ultimate price for his work, Rmi’s personal project became clear. Although the future promise of the French photographer will never be fully realized, the publishing of Revolutions has brought a modicum of closure.

Revolutions is nowavailable through Emphas.is. The book project, funded by contributors, raised $24,250 as of Sept. 4, exceeding its original fundraising target of $15,000 by almost 40%.

Three War Photographers: Feel Fear, Keep Going

Clichés are tricky things. They convey a kind of truth — but can ring hollow. They can sound profound — but once uttered, they’re utterly forgettable. And while often employed to pay tribute to an individual, or to describe a specific profession, some clichés can be applied to a litany of vocations.

When other people run away from danger, they run toward it. They go into battle armed with nothing but courage. Like everyone else, they experience fear — but unlike everyone else, they keep going.

Ultimately, though, there’s one especially odd, defining characteristic about clichés: they endure for a reason. And while some of the assertions above — about running toward danger or experiencing fear — could easily pertain to any number of pursuits, from firefighting to mountain climbing, very few occupations in the world can make those platitudes sound new and meaningful again quite like the job of war photographer.

Ralph Morse—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Here, in a short film by Will Wedig, Jonah Weintraub and Bill Shapiro — made to honor recipients of Time Inc’s prestigious Briton Hadden Lifetime Achievement Award — the profession and the passion of war photography, as practiced across decades by acknowledged masters, get their due.

One of the honorees, LIFE’s Ralph Morse, was sent to the Pacific in World War II as the youngest war correspondent working in that theater. All he managed to accomplish during the conflict was to survive the sinking of a cruiser off of Guadalcanal; make dozens of the most celebrated (and shocking) pictures to come out of the global conflagration; chronicle the liberation of Paris in 1944; and record the German surrender to Eisenhower in 1945. (Morse went on to so devotedly and inventively cover the early days of the Mercury Seven and the Space Race that John Glenn dubbed him the “eighth astronaut,” while LIFE’s long-time managing editor George Hunt once declared that “if LIFE could afford only one photographer, it would have to be Ralph Morse.”)

Larry Burrows—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

The late, British-born Larry Burrows distinguished himself covering Southeast Asia from 1962 until his death in 1971. His work, from the searing single image, “Reaching Out” (featuring a wounded Marine desperately trying to comfort a stricken comrade after a fierce 1966 firefight in a landscape that might have given Hieronymus Bosch nightmares) to his great photo essay, “One Ride With Yankee Papa 13,” not only captured the war in Vietnam. For millions of people around the world, Burrows’ pictures encompassed and defined the long, divisive catastrophe.

He and three fellow photojournalists died when their helicopter was shot down during operations in Laos. Larry Burrows was 44.

James Nachtwey for TIME

Finally, there’s James Nachtwey, who has covered civil strife, natural disasters and armed conflicts around the globe for more than three decades. He has seen fellow photographers and friends injured and killed while doing their jobs. He has been wounded himself (in Iraq in 2003, when an insurgent tossed a grenade into a Humvee that he and TIME’s Michael Weisskopf were riding in). He was the subject of the 2001 Oscar-nominated documentary, War Photographer, and is widely regarded as the greatest living photojournalist.

“To see life,” Henry Luce wrote in his now-famous 1936 mission statement for LIFE magazine, delineating what he envisioned as his new venture’s workmanlike method and its lofty aims. “To see the world; to eyewitness great events … to see strange things — machines, armies, multitudes … to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed.”

Across decades, Morse, Burrows and Nachtwey have seen, and have helped us see, the very best and the absolute worst that humanity can offer.

When other people ran from danger, they ran toward it. They went into battle armed with nothing but courage. They experienced fear — and they kept going. These are war photographers.

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com.

apertureWEEK: Online Photography Reading Shortlist

Aperture aggregates the best posts from this past week in the photography blogosphere.

Video + photobook review: Burke + Norfolk on Afghanistan Wars

Already an award-winning photographer of contemporary Afghanistan, Simon Norfolk returned this time to follow the footsteps of a relatively unknown Irish war photographer, John Burke, who had documented the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878-1880). An immensely engaging book presents the works of both photographers, as well as compelling essays that offer context to this subtle and complex work.

This work is also currently on exhibit at the Tate Modern in London, and it won a World Press Photo Award, too. carrera de fotografia . It is highly unusual for a single body of work to be lauded by both the fine art world and praised by the toughest critics in documentary photojournalism. squido lense .

See 20 photographs, and read more about the book, here in Lens Culture.

DEVELOP Tube: A Photographic Resource Grows

Available on both YouTube and Vimeo, DEVELOP Tube is a video channel that offers resources for photographers. Each project featured on DEVELOP Tube is carefully curated from the photography-related selections of the two video services, with the goal of reflecting and informing some aspect of the photographic community. Thousands of videos are showcased there, from behind the scenes looks at the editing process to trailers for photography-related films. There’s a discussion with photographer Stephen Shore, who helped popularize color photography, about working with Andy Warhol, as well as a multimedia piece about the U.S. economy. Elsewhere, there’s an interview with war photographer Joao Silva, who was wounded in Afghanistan in 2010, about “the biggest fight of the photographer.”

DEVELOP Tube on Vimeo

DEVELOP Tube on Vimeo

But DEVELOP Tube is only a small part of a larger project.

DEVELOP’s founder, Erica McDonald, is an American photographer, curator and teacher, whose career has taken her into magazines, newspapers, galleries and schools around the world. But, she says, she had come to recognize that her geographic location and her connections were giving her a leg up on other photographers, those in isolated regions or just beginning their careers. She wanted to change that.

“I see people around the world who maybe don’t have the same foundation or connections or even opportunities or time or whatever it is, to know what’s what, what grants are available or where they could show their work,” she says. “I felt like I could do something to contribute to our community this way.”

That contribution is DEVELOP Photo, a website slated to launch as the next phase of McDonald’s project. Working as a “one-man band” except for back-end web engineering, she has also built the whole thing from scratch. She says DEVELOP Tube is just a teaser for the larger initiative. “Little did I realize it was going to be about two years later and I would’ve been working around the clock,” she says.

The project took on a life of its own and will, in its final iteration, include an online resource library, education workshops, a magazine aspect and more. Even now, the video channels are a rich source of photographic information. A few weeks ago, DEVELOP collaborated with other photography organizations (like Daylight Magazine and Slideluck Potshow) to host a “Women in Multimedia” night in Bologna, Italy, to showcase the work of many multimedia artists from around the world. Some participated as solo artists and some were part of a group multimedia piece. The event was the source of the works in the gallery shown above, and was part of a larger exhibit called Uncommon Intimacy, which was co-curated by McDonald and is on view now through March 15. And McDonald also is working on collaborating to produce a documentary photography workshop, to be held in New York City this coming June.

McDonald isn’t quite sure what the future holds once the full site launches. “I don’t want it to become a commercial endeavor per se, but I’m not sure I want it to become a non-profit,” she says, but the project continues to expand. “Whoever we work with, it should be in the collaborative spirit. It’s a really interesting, vibrant, alive confluence of pieces.”

Erica McDonald is an American photographer based in New York City. Find out more here.

Wim Wenders Presents the Dresden Peace Prize to James Nachtwey

On Feb. 11, TIME contract photographer James Nachtwey was awarded the Dresden International Peace Prize, an award given to those who go above and beyond to prevent violence. Oscar-nominated director Wim Wenders presented the prize. These are his remarks on Nachtwey, war and the power of photography:

If a war photographer is awarded a Peace Prize, furthermore in a city once devastated by a war, then he must be a very special person and a truly extraordinary photographer. And he must have something to oppose to war.

For it is the nature of war to engage and take in everything, to occupy and appropriate,  without exception. Which war film, for example, isn’t, deep down, a glorification of war, even against better judgment, and often even in spite of the best intentions?

And: It is in the very nature of images to represent what they depict. “What you see is what you get.” That’s exactly what makes them so very powerful. It’s almost like trying to square the circle if you want to dissociate yourself from what an image presents and conveys, let alone try and tell the opposite of what it shows.

War is a huge, infernal industry, the largest one on this planet. It seems presumptuous for one man to attempt to stand in the way of this machinery. Once war has broken out, everything spirals out of control almost immediately, turning even the armies and the soldiers who fight in it into helpless onlookers, victims of their own hubris. Who would dare then to oppose it and put it into perspective with mere… photographs. Who would seriously deploy cameras against tanks?

Just make the effort and visualize it for yourself! After all, almost all of us take pictures today. Even your cell phones don’t come without a camera any more. Or perhaps you have one of those small, convenient digital devices. Or you may even own some  professional equipment… Just imagine going to war with that! And imagine doing so just to take a picture to undeceive the entire world and tell them what’s going on there. Yes: a photo that would influence the outcome of the war or even end it! Right. That would be sheer madness!

All right then, imagine just this: You want to change the life of ONE person with a  photograph. That alone is an enormous challenge, if you think about it. The short moment when you look through the viewfinder or at the tiny display, as you point the camera at something, and finally press the shutter button… that second is supposed to achieve something, to capture something and thus captivate, and thereby move somebody, or more so: even shake up the world?

How can that be possible? Who do you have to be to attempt such a thing? How… would you possibly go about it?!

James Nachtwey’s images give us an accurate idea of how he “goes about it,” in the true sense of the word: where others “just want to get out of here,” that’s where he goes. He travels, in principle, in the direction of places that other people are only desperately leaving from, or have already left in a hurry, or can’t leave anymore.

It is with that first movement that he’s already opposing war: With himself. With his safety, his life, his affection, his conviction. All of the above are captured in his images.

“Wait a minute!” you may object. “Perhaps he gets a kick out of this going-to-war thing, or maybe he is some kind of thrill-seeking tourist. After all, there are people who climb up skyscrapers or walk tightropes at dizzy heights or hurl themselves out of planes or jump off bridges—things which none of us would do, but which a few others apparently like to do. Couldn’t Nachtwey be one of those?”

If he were, he surely wouldn’t win a Peace Award, he would just win some medal as an action hero. This James Nachtwey may have the same first name, but he certainly isn’t a James Bond type. Who is he then?

I don’t think you have to know a photographer’s biography to understand who he is. That’s what he shows us in each of his pictures. Each photograph contains a second one, invisible at first, that doesn’t reveal itself immediately. It’s a “reverse angle,” if you will, a “counter-shot.” That reminds us that taking photos is also called “to shoot pictures”… Yes, the camera is shooting back, is literally “backfiring!” The eye that looks through the lens is also reflected on the photo itself. It leaves a faint, sometimes shadowy trace of the photographer, something between a silhouette and an engraving, an “image” not of his features, but of his heart, his soul, his mind, his spirits. Let’s stay with the first and simple word for a moment, “the heart.”

The heart is the real light-sensitive medium here, not the film nor the digital sensor. It is the heart that sees an image and wants to capture it. The eye lets the light in, sure, which is why we also call it a “lens,” but it doesn’t “depict the image,” it doesn’t “depict”  anything. Nor does the retina nor the nerve cords that transmit the information. The “image” is created “within.”

There, it is matched with many other signals that are coming in at the same time. Some of these are related to formal or aesthetic criteria, like to composition, focus and contrast, or to the overall impression and to details. Other signals are of an ethical or moral nature. What’s going on here? What’s happening to the people in front of my camera? What does their dignity consist of? Or rather: what is violating that dignity? What is that image telling us? Which history leads to this moment, and what continuation does it suggest? How do I react to it as the one who is seeing it, as the witness with the camera? Am I sure I’m free of prejudices or, worse, cynicism? What is it about this image that touches me? Do I have the right to show it to others? How will it affect other people? Could what I see be possibly misinterpreted? How can I prevent that from happening? Would it help if I took a step forward or to the side? If I stepped back a little more? If I left this or that out of the frame?

There are a thousand signals and messages arriving simultaneously, all of which have to be processed within a fraction of a second. The hands are already part of the thought process as they correct the frame, the finger already knows what’s coming and presses the shutter button.

What I’m trying to say is: The photograph that’s just being created includes all of these thoughts, processes them as another kind of light, “an inner light,” depicts them and “contains them” at the same time that it deals with “the outer light” and the outer events, thus producing next to the objective picture the invisible portrait of the photographer himself, that “counter-shot” I mentioned earlier.

And all of this isn’t happening at a birthday party, or on a football field, or at a rock concert, but in a war. Everything is raw, tense, loud, cruel, out of control, insane, incredible, awful, unfair, perfidious… But that’s exactly why the photographer has to be just as precise, quick, careful, considerate and dependable as if he were at a wedding or on a red carpet. No, that’s not true: he has to be even more precise, quicker, more careful, more considerate and more dependable. In war, often enough, you don’t get a second chance.

The photographs exhibited in the Dresden Museum of Military History represent a small selection of the many pictures that James Nachtwey has taken in over thirty years as a traveler and documentarian. They were taken in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in Rwanda, Chechenya, Darfur, at Ground Zero in New York and in Iraq. This list could easily be extended to include images from Sudan, from Northern Ireland, from Romania, and so on, and so on.

James Nachtwey was in “The Heart of Darkness,” to quote the title of Joseph Conrad’s famous novel. If ever someone actually was there, it’s him! One might think that this darkness shows through, that its grim, depressing reflection makes its way through the photographer’s eye, weighing down his heart, his soul, his mind, his spirit.

And indeed, very often that’s exactly what we feel watching TV documentaries, or seeing newspaper or magazine images: that the atrocities we see depicted have hardened the photographer’s or cameraman’s heart. We can often tell that he was already looking the other way while he was taking the picture, was already done with all that death, starvation and fear around him, was only thinking about himself, his own salvation from all this hell, was no longer really WITH the subjects in front of his camera, and no longer really willing to watch death at work. Taking a picture can be a form of no longer wanting to see.

In all of James Nachtwey’s images we can also perceive (at the same time, in that reverse angle) that he didn’t want to look the other way, that he wanted to endure the sight and watch exactly what was standing or lying there before him, that he knew he owed it to the people, the dead, the starving, the sick, the entire situation in front of his camera, that he’d see and show it as exactly as possible, wide awake and with wide open eyes.

If someone’s dignity has been violated James Nachtwey doesn’t violate it a second time, as a voyeur would—but he makes an effort to restore it. (Oh yes, photographs can do both!)

Now, am I just making this up, or do I have something to back up my impressions?

I believe that all we really have to do is take a closer look. All we have to do is train our eyes to see not just the PHOTOGRAPH itself, but the ATTITUDE of the eye and the heart that took it.

Every look represents a certain attitude or state of mind, your gaze just as well, at any given time. Interest, boredom, disgust, indifference, sorrow, love, surprise, curiosity, hatred, cynicism, affection, respect, aversion, exhaustion, frustration…whatever guides our eyes is depicted along with the subject when a camera is lifted to the eye. There is no picture that wasn’t taken with an attitude of some kind or other.

And nowhere is this more necessary than when you stare death in the face, when you’re confronted with violence, despair, the abyss, the darkness. You can make out and decipher in each and every one of his photographs the attitude of James Nachtwey. It is no secret.

I’m just picking an image of his from this exhibition that at first glance isn’t all that “warlike”: Three children, little girls, are standing behind a tree. They’re covering their eyes with their hands. Some distance away a helicopter is landing or lifting off, clouds of dust swirling around. We immediately recognize these helicopters. There are usually guns protruding from the fuselage, and indeed, there they are. These roaring bumblebees are bringing troops, weapons, bombs… in short, war from above, out of the blue, and just as quickly as they came, they’re gone. You immediately hear the “Ride of the Valkyries” from Apocalypse Now.

The children are everything but Valkyries. Their colorful clothes, the slippers on their feet, or the little one’s innocent best Sunday shoes and socks, all tell us how ill-prepared they are for what is coming their way, inevitably, or what is leaving them behind, possibly, like astronauts would arrive or leave on a distant planet. A few moments ago the girls were scampering around, laughing, without a care in the world…and then came the invasion of the foreign gods.

The photograph invokes what may happen next or what might just have happened. Whichever the case, these children will remember this moment as long as they live. The caption that I’m turning to, after I have tried to decode the picture myself for a long time, says: “El Salvador, 1984. The army evacuates wounded soldiers from a village football  field.” Well, this explains it a bit.

Still the message of any photograph is only the photograph itself. In museums, you might have noticed, many people pounce on to the caption, before they even look at the picture. It’s as if they were trying to protect themselves from the image. Reading creates distance, you’re not really concerned any more, the information lets you stand above the things that might otherwise trouble you.

I ask you urgently: First read the photographs closely, also here, in this extraordinary Museum of Military History. Then you will realize, in the case of this picture we just looked at: There’s a lot of tenderness in it! This photo was taken by someone who was more interested in the children than in the troops and their business. It’s not a subject you would expect to see in a picture taken by someone who went there to photograph the war. To see (or find) this, you have to be on the children’s side. You can’t cover your own face with your hands and try to protect the lens of your camera from the dust. You have to do the opposite: open your eyes wide and risk the dusk in your face and your lens.

I’ll move on to another image, almost the opposite to the one before. The Balkan Wars.

A serbian infantry attack near the village of Rahic, outside Brcko, was succesfully repulsed by Bosnian forces. The Serbs who where killed in action were collected from the battlefield and taken behind Bosnian lines. They were dumped in a farmyard, identified, and returned to their comrades the following day.

It shows a truck unloading its horrific cargo: dead bodies are sliding down from the bed. The driver is leaning out of the window of his truck so he can see where he is dumping his load of dead men. Among the bodies there is a wheelbarrow, in a moments it will also come crashing down… The dead are all fully dressed. The way they’re sliding down the tilted surface, with their heads dangling, shows that rigor mortis hasn’t set in yet.

A hand is held up in the foreground, partially covering the lens. We see the palm of the hand, the thumb pointing down. This is the right hand of a man who is standing with his back to the photographer. This isn’t someone trying to stop the photographer from taking pictures; he’s just motioning with his hand to direct the truck driver to the pit that we know must be there, just outside the photo… The most horrifying thing about this scene is that it feels just like an everyday building site.

Do we even want to know which war this is?

A woman who had ventured out to buy supplies was killed by a mortar shell. Her neighbor discovered her lying in the street.

Yes! The caption explains it: “Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian army has successfully held off a Serbian infantry attack near the village of Rahic. The bodies of Serbian soldiers who fell in the battles have been brought from the battlefield behind the Bosnian lines on a truck…”

James Nachtwey is extremely precise. He is a witness, (the word “eye witness” is fitting more than ever) and he takes this responsibility very seriously. He is someone who not only wants to describe what he has just saw, but also wants to record it with words as precisely as possible so that it can be used as evidence.

We can see that the image wasn’t taken at eye level. The photographer didn’t look through the lens, it was “shot from the hip,” so to speak. As quick as a flash, before the man who raised his hand could turn around. If he had turned around, the image would have been a completely different one, in fact, might have become impossible.

As with most of Nachtwey’s photographs, the lens is a slight wide-angle. With such a lens, the photographer has to be right where it’s happening. To be able to take photos such as this, you have to get close to the scene. You can’t just easily zoom in from a distance. The photographer himself has no distance, he is there. And therefore we are, too, no matter if we are sitting in our living room, stand in a museum, or hold a book or a magazine in our hands.

These are pictures by someone who has a strong desire for justice in the face of the horror unfolding right before his eyes, someone who puts a lot on the line for this. Even if the photo is being taken within the fraction of a second by lifting the camera just a little more—he still instinctively finds the right angle at the same time, as if his hands were able to see…With all his senses he is present! With his body and his mind and his heart he really is where his photo takes place! The picture is a part of his own existence.

Or let us look at a third image taken during the Chechen War in the mid-nineties. A village road, a singed wooden barn in the foreground. On the snow-covered road in front of it lies a dead woman, wearing a simple winter coat. Beside her on the ground, a purse. We see the sneakers and her thick socks, her left foot strangely and unnaturally twisted. Is it broken, was she shot at?

Around the corner comes another elderly woman, cautiously, almost looking at the sight with curiosity, “the neighbor,” as the caption tells us, a peasant scar wrapped around her head. She stops in her tracks and stares at the frozen body in the snow. You can almost see her thought: “That could be myself lying there!” There’s a hint of surprise in her stopping short, looking at the scene. The simple, one-story houses in the background bear witness to the place’s poverty. There are shingles missing, or is that damage caused by the war, too?

Actually, we can’t help thinking or perhaps it’s more of a vague feeling than a conscious thought: this photo is “just altogether impossible!” There’s something about it that we can’t quite get into our heads. In a movie, OK, we could accept a scene like this… And then we realize what it is that we think is so “impossible” about it: it’s the fact that the photographer was present that he was part of it, at this very place, that he captured the neighbor right at the moment of recognition, as if she were all alone at the scene, as if there couldn’t possibly be another person with a camera who’s not only watching, but creating evidence of the moment as well.

We are totally at a loss to explain the photographer’s attendance here. How could he make himself invisible like this? Unless he wasn’t there as a photographer in the first place, rather as someone who had just rushed to the scene as well, a fellow human being who was just as shocked, just as astounded… Someone who has become so much as one with his camera, that it indeed has become invisible to other people.

I’m also beginning to catch a glimpse of something else in each of the three images that I just instinctively picked out, almost arbitrarily: I can’t quite put the finger on it, but it seems to me that in these pictures the photographer doesn’t just see for himself! And this is something you can not at all take for granted!

Actually, the act of photographing is a very lonely job. You are mostly left to your own devices, especially when war is raging around you or hunger and death are haunting the land. But these photographs here all have one thing in common, an “attitude,” a point of view, the photographer’s awareness—whatever we call it—of standing where he is for others, of seeing on behalf of others, of exposing himself, and of giving testimony, for others.

Who are these “others” on whose behalf James Nachtwey goes to war, so to speak? Are they just the subjects of his photos, the starving, the dying, the dead, the perpetrators, the sick, the injured, the sufferers, the horrified? Or don’t these “others” also include us, the viewers, the very moment we begin to get involved with one of his images? When he makes himself a witness, and stands by this task, doesn’t he call us to the witness box as well?

If this is indeed the case, then James Nachtwey creates a community between the subjects of his photographs and us, a community that we can’t get out of so easily. He turns us into one humanity, not more and not less: Common humanity. The word “compassion” takes on its original meaning. (In German it literally means “sharing the suffering.”) It doesn’t connote condescension or “pity,” “the pitying smile,” but real empathy, when the suffering of others becomes ours as well.

Nachtwey manages to see things on behalf of both sides of humanity, the victims and the viewers, because his work is not only directed AGAINST something, against war, arbitrary violence, injustice or inequality, it is, above all, intended FOR (and dedicated to) the people he encounters in wars and in suffering, as well as for us.

I am aware that the word I’m going to use is somewhat antiquated, and it’s probably difficult to translate. This man is a “Menschenfreund,” a lover of humanity, and therefore an enemy of war.

And when he goes right to the heart of the war he does so on behalf of us, in order to force us to look closely, but also on behalf of the victims, as the eye-witness who wants to testify in their favor and belie war and its propaganda.

Maybe James Nachtwey is not just a photographer, but has a lot of professions.

He is also sociologist who doesn’t just dutifully record the phenomena and symptoms, but who wants to understand what caused them; a minister who knows that it is not consoling that gives consolation, but most of all being there for someone else; an archeologist who doesn’t just hastily burrow down into the dirt, but who carefully uncovers stone by stone; a poet who knows that he must never name things in plain words, but only invoke them in the reader; a philosopher who’d rather encourage people to think for themselves instead of self-righteously doing the thinking for them; a teacher who commands our respect because he respects everyone, including himself; a gardener who knows that you have to get to the roots when you want to pull out the weeds; a surgeon who knows that it won’t do just to operate on the fractures, but that you have to lay bare the trauma inside.

In short: a man who is able to look life and death in the eye, not because he is more courageous than we are, but because he lets himself get carried by all of those for whom he does it.

And because James Nachtwey is all of the above, because he has never stopped believing that there is reason behind his work, because he has never stopped believing that his images have their greatest possible effect only if the eye and the heart behind them have an unfailing faith in humanity and its ability for compassion.

For all of these reasons and many more we should stop calling him a “war photographer.” Instead, look upon him as a man of peace, a man whose longing for peace makes him go to war and expose himself… in order to make peace. He hates war with a passion, and loves mankind with even more of a passion.

I can’t think of anyone who would deserve this award, in this city of Dresden more than James Nachtwey.

Wim Wenders

Feb. 11, 2012

Wim Wenders is an award-winning German director whose film Pina is nominated for Best Documentary—Feature at this year’s Academy Awards. He is also the author of Emotion Pictures.

Keep up with James Nachtwey’s work on his Facebook page.