James Nachtwey

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James Nachtwey in 2011

James Nachtwey (born March 14, 1948) is one of the most influential photojournalists and war photographers of the late 20th century.


  • In a war the normal codes of civilized behavior are suspended. It would be unthinkable in so-called normal life to go into someone's home where a family is grieving over the death of a loved one and spend long moments photographing them. It simply wouldn't be done. Those picture could not have been made unless I was accepted by the people I'm photographing. It's simply impossible to photograph moments such as those…without the complicity of the people I'm photographing…without the fact that the welcomed me, that they accepted me, that they wanted me to be there. They understand that a stranger who's come there with a camera to show the rest of the world what is happening to them…gives them a voice in the outside world that they otherwise wouldn't have. I try my best to approach people with respect. I want them to see that I have respect for them and the situation they're in. I want to be very open in my approach…feel open in my own heart towards them. I want them to be aware of that. People do sense it…with very few words…sometimes with no words at all.
    • War Photographer, documentary, 2001
  • The worst thing is to feel that as a photographer I'm benefiting from someone else's tragedy. This idea haunts me. It's something I have to reckon with every day, because I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be overtaken by personal ambition, I will have sold my soul. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person's predicament. The extent to which I do that is the extent to which I become accepted by the other and to that extent I can accept myself.
    • War Photographer, documentary, 2001

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