James Nachtwey

War Photographer
November 22 2003 until March 28 2004
© Jirka Jansch
© Jirka Jansch
© Jirka Jansch
© Jirka Jansch
© Jirka Jansch
© Jirka Jansch

Rwanda, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Romania, Somalia, Chechnya—for over 20 years, James Nachtwey has been taking photographs in the crisis regions of the world. He is one of the most influential and most-published contemporary photographers documenting wars, disasters and their consequences. His photographs allow us to see into the backgrounds of power and reduce anonymous horror to individual fates. The images lend unforgettable faces to abstract crises, faces that boldly demand humanitarian assistance. Despite their documentary intent, Nachtwey’s photographs are not snapshots; they show artistic method. The object is brought out clearly, perfect in terms of technique and composition. The photographs are aesthetically pleasing, works of art, but their contents are shocking and repulsive. The head of a young Hutu in profile, his mouth opened as if in a silent scream. The deep scars covering the young man’s face and head are the marks of machetes. Because he had refused to take part in the Tutsi massacres in Ruanda, his own tribe members disfigured him with their machete blows. This photograph by James Nachtwey is one of the most well-known images of war and was selected as the World Press Photo in 1994. Looking where no one else can or will, not looking away—Nachtwey’s photographs reduce anonymous horror to individual fates. They lend unforgettable faces to abstract crises, faces that boldly demand humanitarian assistance. Nachtwey describes himself as an anti-war photographer and his work as a tool for increasing public awareness and creating a social conscience: “What I record will become a part of the eternal archive of our collective memory. I know that photographs can force those in power to act. Without the photographs of civil war and famine, nobody would have interceded. Without the photographs from Bosnia, the war there might still be going on.” At the same time, Nachtwey's pictures examine the general problem of war photography: the photographer treads a fine line between documentation and aestheticisation, and profits from the horrors that he presents in such polished form.