War photographer


in Bombs and rockets, Films and movies, Photography, Politics

In my photojournalism class, we watched the 2001 documentary War Photographer, about the work of James Nachtwey. The film showed him working in both conflict zones and zones of acute poverty, including Indonesia, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda. It was interesting and well done, and may well have been a balanced portrayal, but the absence of any kind of critical comment on Nachtwey made it feel somewhat like a hagiography.

It may well be the case that Nachtwey is a talented and self-sacrificing man who has helped to increase public concern about various sorts of severe suffering. At the same time, an account based on his own perspective – along with that of his friends, admirers, and co-workers – cannot make that case convincingly. I suppose this is a fundamental problem with autobiographies. Perhaps there should be some sort of third-party certification process where impartial outsiders compare the content of a book or film with all the information they can gather, and then certify or refuse to certify the content. Of course, not many politicians or other public figures would be willing to go through such a screening.

One potent message conveyed by the film is about extreme poverty. Seeing families living right beside dangerous railroad tracks in Indonesia sends a powerful emotional message. Of course, our intellectual response to seeing that varies depending on a constellation of other beliefs. Some people will see that and think: “This shows why economic growth is such a vital phenomenon, when it comes to improving human welfare”. Others will focus more on distributive justice, and say that the issue is less about enriching everyone, and more about transferring wealth from the affluent to the desperately poor.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

. October 11, 2011 at 10:56 pm

“Airing photojournalism’s dirty secret, Italian photographer Ruben Salvadori demonstrates how conflict photography is often staged by the photographers themselves. He spent a significant amount of time in East Jerusalem studying the role that photojournalists play in what the world sees. Ruben is about to graduate with dual majors for a BA in International Relations and Anthropology/Sociology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel.”

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