War Photographer: James Nachtwey
Yes, yes, I know… James Nachtwey is every shooter’s idol. With good fucking reason.
We all know who James Nachtwey is, and we’ve all seen his absolutely amazing work. A lot of us even know about his background, and his philosophies about photojournalism, and why he does what he does.
For me, Nachtwey has always been an enigma. I’ve been following his work since I was a photojournalism student in the mid-nineties, and I am just as enamored with his images today as I was then.
I’m bringing up Nachtwey now because tonight I once again watched War Photographer, a documentary about Nachtwey. The program contains a lot of footage shot alongside Nachtwey when he was shooting at various locations from the mid-nineties through 2004 or so. Most of the clips are compilations, with some of the later stuff having been shot by the doc’s director, Christian Frei. I’m bringing it up because all you young shooters out there really need to see it, if you haven’t already.
Look, the point is, it’s a pretty famous film, and with good reason. It’s simply an amazing piece of work, and a virtual gold mine of information for all shooters, young and old. If you haven’t seen it, consider it mandatory that you run out and find it.
There is a lot of interview time with Nachtwey himself, but the most amazing part to me was all of the footage that was shot with two tiny video cameras that were mounted to the chassis of Nachtwey’s camera. One recorded the view looking over his camera (Canon EOS-1V), just behind the top LCD, and the other recorded the view looking up at the front of his camera from the lower right. Thanks to these little cameras, the viewer gets to see what James Nachtwey is shooting as he’s actually shooting it. You see his subject, and you see his finger turn the primary dial to adjust exposure, and then shoot. You hear the click of the wheel and the whir of his motor drive. Yes, I said motor drive because he was shooting film. Remember that stuff?!
Essentially, I equate this experience for shooters to something like – oh, I don’t know – maybe if all the physicists of the world were able to peer over Einstein’s shoulder as he was penning his Theory of Relativity. It’s that important. You can learn a lot just by watching Nachtwey in action.
I know it sounds like I’m lipping his ass by gushing about Nachtwey’s immeasurable talent, but the fact is that his photographs alone are not what make him the best in my eyes. It is his mentality and attitude toward what it is he does. The man is humble. On a regular basis, he sees the very worst this world has to offer. He tells the story because it needs to be told. Someone has to be there to let the rest of the world know what is going on. That is the fundamental driving force behind what it means to be a shooter. I’ve always believed this, and I’ve often felt like some kind of fruit cake when people (non-shooters) give me funny looks after I tell them why it is that I do what I do. Usually they can’t understand why I would want to see a dead body, but then I have to explain that no, I don’t want to see the dead bodies, but chances are that, if there is a body, then there is also a story that should be told.
Luckily I don’t really see that stuff any more. Now it’s all pro sports and street shots. I tell you though, I feel the need to be shooting something a little more… meaningful. We’ll see where the future takes me.
Here is some of my recent work for your viewing pleasure: