War Photographer is a moving, challenging, and inspirational film about James Nachtwey, one of the world’s foremost photographers of war and injustice throughout the world. Famine, war, tragedy, and the images of them within the mass media, are the grounds for some real questioning within this must-watch film. As magazine editor Christiane Breustedt asks…
“Do I make a living from other people’s suffering? Has their suffering and misery been my ladder to success? Do I exploit people? Am I the bloodsucker? The vampire with the camera?”
The film also highlights the power of media as a tool in the protection and advancement of human rights, and the challenges faced for human rights issues to find a voice in a market-driven information system. As Nachtwey points out…
“Advertisers are tired of having their products displayed next to images of human tragedy. They feel that it somehow detracts from the saleability of their products.”
“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.”
“Its more difficult to get publications to focus on issues that are more critical, that do not provide people an 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.”
“We must look at it. We’re required to look at. We’re required to do what we can about it. If we don’t, who will?”
That whole issue of trying to communicate difficult but necessary truths within a media context that is geared to maximizing audience share in the minimum time, and where delivering information is not their goal, but rather its delivering audience share to advertisers, that presents some fundamental questions about how we have organized our information systems within society, and who and what do they serve? It’s a fundamental question in regards to human rights in a media context.
“For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, than photography can be perceived as the opposite of war. And if its used well, it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war.”
“In a way, if an individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war in order to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening, he’s trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that’s the reason why those in charge of perpetuating a war do not like to have photographers around.”
“It’s occurred to me that if everyone could be there just once, to see for themselves what white phosphorous does to the face of a child, or what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet, or how a jagged piece of shrapnel can rip someone’s leg off; If everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief just one time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands.”
“But everyone cannot be there. And that is why photographers go there. To show them, and reach out and grab them, and make them stop what they’re doing, and pay attention to what is going on. 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.”
As the slogan of the human rights media organization WITNESS states: See It, Film It, Change It.