For over two decades, James Nachtwey has exposed the terrifying existence of war and civil strife by means of his camera. Nachtwey does not simply record images of pain, confusion and war’s victims, but consistently manages to portray the grave realities of tragedy in a human dimension.
Nachtwey studied Art History and Political Science at Dartmouth College, where he was profoundly affected by images from the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement. He taught himself photography while working in the Merchant Marine, and in 1976 started work as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico.
In 1980 he moved to New York and began a career as a freelance magazine photographer. His first foreign assignment was to cover civil strife in Northern Ireland during the IRA hunger strike in 1981, and since that time, Nachtwey has devoted himself to documenting wars, conflicts, and critical social issues. His work has taken him from Northern Ireland to Korea, from Afghanistan to Rwanda, from South Africa to Bosnia, Chechnya, Jerusalem, and Kosovo. As he states, “The world continues, history continues to produce tragedies. And it is very important that they be documented in a humane way, in a compelling way. And because I’ve established credibility in the press and I feel the responsibility to continue…. Having a place is a privilege and a responsibility that I cannot turn my back on. I have to continue.”
Nachtwey’s work displays an intuitive understanding of the power of the universal language of photography to capture an image with meaning and to communicate the truth. His photographs suffuse historic moments with a poetic artistry that transcends the written word. “I have been a witness, and these pictures are my testimony. The events I have recorded should not be forgotten and must not be repeated.”
Nachtwey has been a contract photographer with Time Magazine since 1984, and was associated with Black Star and Magnum photos. He has had solo exhibitions at the International Center of Photography in New York, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France in Paris, the Palazzo Esposizione in Rome, the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego, Culturgest in Lisbon, Madrid’s El Circulo de Bellas Artes, Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles, Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art, the Canon Gallery and the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the Carolinum in Prague, and Sweden’s Hasselblad Center, among others.
His numerous honors include receiving the Robert Capa Gold Medal five times, the Magazine Photographer of the Year six times, the World Press Photo Award twice, the International Center of Photography Infinity award three times, and the Bayeaux Award for War Correspondents twice.
Nachtwey, however, finds his greatest reward in his sense of purpose. In his own words, “[My photography] has become a tool of social awareness, not something done for the sake of photography itself, and doing it has reconfirmed my initial inspiration.”