Nachtwey, James

Nachtwey, James
▪ 1996

      Photojournalist James Nachtwey followed his instincts when deciding where to travel for the stories he worked on, and those instincts took him all over the world, often to scenes of violent conflict and social upheaval. The haunting images he recorded in those places appeared in a number of the most respected international publications—National Geographic, Life, Time, El País, and L'Express—and he received numerous awards for them. In 1995 he became the first photographer to win three of the profession's most prestigious awards in a single year. For his work in South Africa in the period leading up to the April 1994 elections, he was given the Robert Capa Gold Medal, his fourth, and for pictures taken on assignment in Rwanda, he received both the Magazine Photographer of the Year award, his sixth, and the World Press Photo of the Year, his second, for a portrait showing the mutilation inflicted upon a Hutu man who refused to take part in the brutality against the Tutsi.

      The danger inherent in Nachtwey's work became especially apparent during his assignment in South Africa, when a group of journalists was fired upon. Nachtwey was attempting to aid his friend and colleague Ken Oosterbroek, who had been shot, when a bullet came so close to Nachtwey that it parted his hair. Oosterbroek had been fatally wounded.

      Nachtwey was born on March 14, 1948, in Syracuse, N.Y. He graduated from Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., with a degree in art history and political science and then served in the merchant marine. Influenced by the work of still photographers during the Vietnam War and impressed by the power of photos to communicate the reality of a situation, he became a self-taught student of photography. After serving four years as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico, he moved to New York City in 1980 to become a freelance magazine photographer. Following his first assignment, in Northern Ireland in 1981, Nachtwey worked in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. In 1984 he became a contract photographer with Time magazine and in 1986 joined the Magnum cooperative for photojournalists. His books include Deeds of War (1989) and The Inferno (1995).

      (BARBARA WHITNEY)

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▪ American photojournalist
born March 14, 1948, Syracuse, N.Y., U.S.

      photojournalist noted for his unflinching and moving images of wars, conflicts, and social upheaval.

      Nachtwey graduated from Dartmouth College, Hanover, N.H., where he studied art history and political science, and then served in the merchant marine. Influenced by the work of still photographers during the Vietnam War and impressed by the power of photos to communicate the immediacy of events, he became a self-taught student of photography. From 1976 to 1980 he was a newspaper photographer in New Mexico, and in 1980 he moved to New York City to work as a freelance photographer. There he joined Black Star agency. After his first foreign assignment, in Northern Ireland, he worked in Central America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. The images he recorded in those places appeared in a number of international publications, including National Geographic, Life, Time, El País, and L'Express. In 1984 he became a contract photographer with Time magazine. He was a member of Magnum photography cooperative from 1986 to 2001, when he became one of the founding members of the photo agency VII, named for the number of its founding members.

      He has received many of the most respected photography awards, many of them multiple times, notably the Robert Capa Gold Medal, Magazine Photographer of the Year, and World Press Photo of the Year. Compared to Robert Capa (Capa, Robert) for his sense of compassion and commitment and to Henri Cartier-Bresson (Cartier-Bresson, Henri), who inspired him, for his composition, Nachtwey said of his own work:

I use what I know about the formal elements of photography at the service of the people I'm photographing—not the other way around. I'm not trying to make statements about photography. I'm trying to use photography to make statements about what's happening in the world. I don't want my compositions to be self-conscious.

      This compassion—which is particularly compelling in view of the death, destruction, and inhumanity he has witnessed for more than two decades—has enabled him both to be present at and to record the heart-wrenching moments in personal lives throughout the world.

      His books include Deeds of War (1989) and Inferno (1999). War Photographer (2001) is a documentary film about Nachtwey and his work.

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Universalium. 2010.

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