War Photographer (2001)
James Nachtwey: It's more difficult to get publications to focus on issues that are more critical, that do not provide people with as escape from reality but attempt to get them deeper into reality. To be concerned about something much greater than themselves. And I think people are concerned. I think quite often, publishers don't give their audience enough credit for that. In fact, at the end of the day, I believe people do want to know when there's some major tragedy going on; when there's some unacceptable situation happening in this world. And they want something done about it. That's what I believe. We must look at it. We're required to look at it. We're requited to do what we can about it. If we don't, who will?
James Nachtwey: For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war.
James Nachtwey: The most incomprehensible situation I've ever witnessed was Rwanda where we don't really know how many people died; the estimate of half a million to a million. They were killed with very primitive weapons; clubs and rocks and machetes, face to face. And I saw some massacre sites and I just do not understand how people can do that to each other. What can inspire such fear and such hatred? This is beyond my understanding really. It's very difficult to get over that.
James Nachtwey: And I realised that many of the people I was photographing might have been the very ones who had committed the massacres that I had witnessed just a few weeks before. And it was like taking the express elevator to hell.
James Nachtwey: I began to do documentary photographs of poverty which is very widespread in Indonesia. There's terrible poverty. These are people who have jobs, raise families, it's very much a worker's neighbourhood. And this is what they have found themselves in; the longer railway tracks. These are not drug addicts or drop-outs; they work. They're trying to raise their families. They came in from the countryside looking for a better life, and they simply can't afford normal housing. So they build shacks of abandoned wood and plastic where there's no rent.
James Nachtwey: While I was doing this reportage, I discovered a man who had one arm and one leg. He'd been run over by a train seven years ago on a drunken night and somehow managed to survive. He was living with his wife and four children in the gravel between railway tracks. I could see that he was very loving towards his children; that they also loved him in return. That he was trying his best to keep his family together. And spent quite a bit of time documenting the life of this family.
James Nachtwey: Every situation is different than the next. A lot of it was instinct, a lot of it is knowledge and absorbing information and coming to some sort of innate understanding of events.
James Nachtwey: Fear is not what's important; it's how you deal with it. It would be like asking a marathon runner if they feel pain. It's not a matter of whether you feel it; it's how you manage it. It could happen to any of us, anytime. An we all know that this is a distinct possibility every time we go out, everyday it's what we face. It comes with the territory, it's part of the job, you go in knowing that from the beginning. Nobody feels sorry for themselves; it's just part of it.
James Nachtwey: The main purpose of my work is to appear in the mass media. It's not so much that I want my pictures to be looked upon as art objects as it is a form of communication. Whatever I did that accomplished something, I'm glad for it. But there's always so much more to do. I've never felt complete; I've never felt satisfied. I wouldn't say I could use the word 'happy' about it because its always involved other people's tragedies and other people's misfortunes. At best, there's a kind of grim satisfaction that perhaps I brought some attention, and focused people's attention on these problems. Perhaps it brought some relief. But its shifting sand that keeps moving.
James Nachtwey: The worst thing is to feel that as a photographer I am benefiting from someone else's tragedy. This idea haunts me. It's something I have to reckon with every day because I know that if I ever allowed genuine compassion to be overtaken by personal ambition, I will have sold my soul. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person's predicament. The extent to which I do that is the extent to which I become accepted by the other; and to that extent, I can accept myself.
James Nachtwey: Why photograph war? Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior, which has existed throughout history, by the means of photography.
James Nachtwey: In a way, if and individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war to communicate to the rest of the world what's happening, he's trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that's the reason for those in charge of perpetuating the war do not like to have photographers around.