Thursday, July 19, 2007

War Photographer - Tokyo 7.19.07

Tonight I went for the screening of "War Photographer," a documentary on the story of one of the most significant war photographers of our time, James Nachtwey.

I wasn't familiar with Nachtwey's works before, and it was sheer personal interest in photo journalism that drew me to the screening. During the first 20 minutes of the film, I was greatly disturbed. Seeing Nachtwey relentlessly shooting pictures of the distressed and grief-stricken victims of the Kosovo War who had lost their homes and beloved ones, I questioned the soul of Nachtwey and wondered how he could possibly justify his work in face of the gravest human tragedies of all.

This is a legitimate question raised repeatedly in respect to war photography or photo journalism. The film, fortunately, does not fall short in addressing this question. 40 minutes into the film, Nachtwey himself begins to speak, along with his colleageus and friends who share their views on what he attempts to achieve via his photos.

"Is he making a living out of the deaths or the suffering fleshes of the others? Is his daily bread or water gained through the deprivation of others'?" One of Nachtwey's close friends, a director of a significant European magazine publisher, raises the question.

The answer becomes clearer and clearer at the end of the film.

"If war is the denial of human rights and humanity, photographs - when used correctly - begin to offer possible antidotes to such violations of humanity ... Perhaps it is for such reasons that those who perpetually wage wars against the innocent lives are always against or afraid of the presence of photographers."

"The only way for me to ensure that I am not shooting for the interests of my own is to deeply feel for the pain and suffering of those whom I shoot and, to the best of my ability, to respect their emotions with all sincerity," says Nachtwey.

During one of his photo shootings in Jakarta, a man was chased by an enraged mob that attempted to kill him by rocks, clubs, swords, and sheer fists. Nachtwey put down his camera and, on his knees, began to beg to the mad crowd and asked them to stop beating the poor man. The crowd didn't stop; the man was beaten to death.

"The genocide in Rwanda was the greatest atrocities of all that went beyond all of my understanding," says Nachtwey. After the genocide ended when most of the Hutu's fled to the neighboring countries in fear of retaliation, there, a large number of them became refugees and later wiped out by the outbreak of epidemic.

"When I realized that the refugees and the epidemic-stricken whom I had been shooting were the ones who previously committed the genocide, it was like taking an express escalator down to hell," says Nachtwey.

"If everyone could just go to the battlefield for once and see for themselves, they would realize that nothing can ever be taken for granted or given excuses for putting the innocents lives through such suffering."

"But because not everyone could go and see for themselves, I hope to bring out photographs that could begin to communicate that conviction to them."

For more info on James Nachtwey:

梅ちゃん at 11:41:00 PM



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