Eyewitness 

Photographer James Nachtwey covers the wide world of war.

Veteran Time magazine photographer James Nachtwey is recovering from shrapnel wounds he suffered last December from a grenade tossed into a Humvee in which he was riding during a US Army patrol in Baghdad. Time reporter Michael Weisskopf lost his right hand when he quickly threw the grenade out of the vehicle, saving four lives.

Such incidents are nothing new to Nachtwey, who is widely considered the finest war photographer currently active -- some would say ever. In the 2001 documentary film War Photographer, Nachtwey is in a group pinned down in a skirmish in 1994 South Africa when a colleague next to him is shot. The film follows Nachtwey, depicted as remarkably uncynical, stoic, and even Lincolnesque, through the hellholes of Ramallah, Kosovo, Rwanda, and East Java. His photographs are not just of literal war but of its insidious by-products: death, dismemberment, famine, disease, displacement, slavery. In the documentary, he says his mission is "to create pictures powerful enough to overcome the deluding effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference to protest, and by the strength of that protest to make others protest." If photography can be a powerful ingredient toward an "antidote to war," then Nachtwey's works stand as the best possible testimony.

Des Wright, his counterpart at Reuters, says that Nachtwey's photographs are so effective because he wades right into the action rather than shooting from a roof or bridge. Despite this in-your-face approach, Nachtwey shows a respect for humanity that precludes accusations of exploitation or callous disregard for misery. An ex-lover says that the photographer carries "his own library of suffering in his head."

Which is why "James Nachtwey: Photographs," an exhibit of photos of Manhattan on September 11; Afghanistan; and his December trip to Iraq, is such an exciting prospect. The show, which runs from March 10 through April 30 at the UC Berkeley Graduate Department of Journalism's Center of Photography, is being curated by UC Berkeley lecturer Ken Light, himself a photojournalist who recently became embroiled in his own case of photographic ethics. As a twenty-year-old student, Light took a photo of Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry at a 1971 antiwar rally. Last week that photo emerged on the Web with an image of a speech-giving Jane Fonda superimposed next to Kerry -- despite the fact that she had not even attended the rally. This attempt to hurt Kerry's chances at nomination through false association with an antiwar activist reviled on the right has newly raised the issue of authentic documentation versus forging and Photoshopping images for purposes of political suasion. Ironically, Light teaches a class in law and ethics in photography, and knows from doctored photos.

Another major controversy involving photography is the reduced access by war photographers in Iraq and the policy of embedding, wherein journalists are assigned to one combat unit for the duration of their assignment. What does Jim Nachtwey think of these issues? Nachtwey will be conducting local workshops during the exhibition's run, so you might get the chance to ask him yourself. Light is organizing the workshops through his new Emeryville organization Fotovision (Fotovision.org). "There's a revival in interest in documentary," he says, "and I want to foster that community." North Gate Hall is near the corner of Hearst and Euclid avenues on the north side of the UCB campus. The main phone number: 510-642-3383. For more information, visit Journalism.Berkeley.edu/eventsn Photographer James Nachtwey covers the wide world of war.

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