War Photographer

A tall, well-groomed man stands up, grabs two cameras and slings his backpack around one shoulder. He leaves his hotel room and goes to work. His work is photographing the killed, or not quite killed, the grieving, the impoverished, the under-privileged. This man is James Nachtwey, a self-declared war photographer for a career of around 20 years.

This close, very sensitively and in great detail directed documentary by Swiss director Christian Frei allows us a glimpse into the work of a man, whose pictures we either immediately recognise, or silently absorb. It is a glimpse, nothing more. It tells us something about the person James Nachtwey, but is mostly concerned with his work. The film seems fully in line with Nachtwey’s own mantra: don’t look at me, look at those people suffering from injustice, caused by the decisions made by others sitting in comfort, it is them who need your attention and awareness. And your speaking out for peace.

I cannot imagine a quieter and yet stronger struggle for peace. At the end, the man is so remarkable, but mostly defined by the photos he has taken, and the way how they were taken, their purpose and the tragic bond between the person behind and in front of the camera. And trying to be defined by people who somehow feel they have somehow something to say about him, although in the end nobody can; some self-important German editors, who despite their respectful comments, but with their intellectualising seem sadly detached and arrogant from the true world Nachtwey has captured; the superficial American CNN woman, who despite being the head of CNN’s foreign affairs only realises years into her career, that the style of reporting is impacting the actual report itself. You will find much more when not listening to the people, but simply watching; watching the photos and the film.

With the audience’s obsession with celebrity, liefestyle and fashion, says Nachtwey, it has become more and more difficult to convince editors to run stories covering the misery in the shadows of this glamourous world. We believe it.

Anyone with even a remote interest in journalism, photography or an interest in the situation in the world at large should go and see this film. Nachtwey contemplates, that every person should once come to the places of crisis he travels to, to witness the cruelty and injustice. When they go back they will support peace from wherever they are. And while this of course isn’t practically possible, his photos and Frei’s film are as close as it is going to get to achieve this. War Photographer is still running at the Tokyo Photography Museum Hall in Ebisu Garden Place. Interview with Frei, statement from Nachtwey.