Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Movie Week Review: War Photographer

I have been a witness, and these pictures are
my testimony. The events I have recorded should
not be forgotten and must not be repeated."
-James Nachtwey-

I found this documentary to be both inspiring and emotionally heart wrenching to watch. It quickly became obvious to me that James Nachtwey is a man of extraordinary principle, courage and sheer force of will. His photographs speak a thousand times louder than any verbal declaration!

An Oscar nominee for best documentary, "War Photographer" was directed by Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei, who followed James Nachtwey to Kosovo, Palestine and Indonesia. We see the photographer in combat zones and pockets of horrific poverty, approaching his subjects slowly, with a hand raised in peace. At one point he befriends a family that makes its home between train tracks in Jakarta; later he's running alongside rescue workers as they rush a wounded man through cross fire in the West Bank. Tear gas, shrapnel, the toxic fumes of a sulphur mine -- there's little that Nachtwey won't risk for the telling image.

Matching the closeness and immediacy of Nachtwey's work, Frei brings us into his process by mounting a tiny video camera to his still camera -- allowing us to see Nachtwey's perspective as he approaches each crisis, selecting and framing shots. We hear his breath, we see his right index finger as it adjusts the focus and clicks the shutter. This brings us closer to reality -- it brings the viewer right into any given situation, from a cholera epidemic to a deadly famine

"Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee. I did not want to see this.

Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera?" 

To James, safety is not the most important thing. Over the years, Nachtwey has endured much physical pain, injury and disease -- yet he continues on with his work. He is a selfless, heroic but uncommonly modest man. Nachtwey says he "manages" his fear as a marathon runner manages pain, channeling emotion into his work that he sees as an antidote to war and his photographs as a graphic "negotiation for peace." He asks himself, “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 motivates me.” 

Nachtwey is a single-minded and focused individual and he justifies his role by respecting others’ predicaments. He is emotionally connected to his work and to the people and circumstances he is photographing. James gets up close and personal and is at his best in extreme situations, when he is right in the middle of the action. He has a way of communicating with the people he photographs because he views them as equals and lets his images tell the story.  Seeking to relay images of truth and reality, he wants to attract attention and cause concern because awareness leads to action. He views his images as a form of communication, not as an art form, and in the process of giving these victims of war and poverty ‘a voice’ through his photographs, he in turn discovers himself. 

Here are a few compelling images that gripped my attention and literally shook the core of my soul...


I felt the most profound statement Nachtwey made in this film was, “The people I photograph are much more important than myself.” What a true servant to humanity! He reminds us that we as a species, are required to do something about the atrocities on the world;  help those who cannot help themselves. 
Overall, I thought this film was an act of spiritual faith - an eloquent, deeply felt meditation on the nature of compassion.

To view this riveting documentary, click here.

To visit James Nachtwey's website, click here.

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