A Witness Speaks through Pictures

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.  

James Nachtwey

Silence may be golden, but one picture can implant a memory and elicit emotions that are hard to shake.  Yesterday, Robin Jafari introduced us to the work of James Nachtwey, a U.S. photographer who has been a witness to disasters such as 9/11, wars from Afganistan to Rwanda and the aftermath of struggles from Jerusalem to Northern Ireland. Having covered conflicts and incidents of social injustice in over 30 countries, Nachtwey is considered to be one of the greatest war photographers of recent decades. 

Nachtwey was injured by a grenade in 2003 as he was covering the Iraq war as a Time magazine photographer. A Time journalist, Michael Weisskopf grabbed the grenade and throw it out of the humvee in which they were traveling. Unfortunately it detonated in his hand.  Everyone in the vehicle was injured with the explosion.  Soon after his recovery Nachtway returned to cover the Southeast Asian tsunami of 2004.

In 2007, Nachtwey was the winner of the TED Prize, awarding him $100,000 and one wish to change the world. This was his wish: "I'm working on a story that the world needs to know about. I wish for you to help me break it in a way that provides spectacular proof of the power of news photography in the digital age."  Visit his website to learn more of his work.

Sample Photographs by James Nachtwey



Books and DVD by James Nachtwey

Moorehead, Caroline and James Nachtway.  Humanity in War: Frontline Photography since 1860 (New Internationalist, 2009).

Published to commemorate the 150 years since the idea for the Red Cross was born at the Battle of Solferino in Italy, Humanity in War traces the history of the largest humanitarian organization in the world through its remarkable photographic archive. Part of an international campaign, these iconic images serve to document the realities of war and the effectiveness of the now omnipresent Red Cross. They reveal and promote what can be achieved when aid to the suffering is given without discrimination.

They are also a history of the evolution of photography itself. Ranging from the very first days of photography—the American Civil War, for instance—to the work of modern-day photographers and photojournalists including James Nachtwey, Sebastian Salgado, Eric Bouvier, and Nick Danziger, the images speak for themselves and are reproduced in exceptional quality.

As the nature of war has changed over the decades, so the Red Cross has evolved to include not just medical assistance but teachers, water experts, nutritionists, logicians, lawyers, and politicians. But their activities remain the same: visiting detainees, brokering prisoner exchanges, repatriating the wounded, tracing the missing, and putting families in touch with each other.


Nachtwey, James and Christiana Amanpour. War Photographer (2001), Director: Christian Frei, Running Time: 96 minutes.

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, War Photographer is the compelling portrait of the man considered the bravest and most important war photographer of our time, James Nachtwey. The film has been in competition in 36 major international film festivals, played theatrically in over 50 cities and has 5 times won prizes for Best Film or Best Documentary.

Although he has won many prestigious photography awards, including Magazine Photographer of the Year several times, Nachtwey is still not well-known by name. Most people, however, would recognize his extraordinarily powerful images of the violence and suffering of wartime that have appeared in almost every major publication worldwide over the last two decades.

For over two years Swiss filmmaker Christian Frei follows Nachtwey around the world, uncovering compassionate and unsettling images from some of the most incendiary spots on the globe -- the burning farmhouses of Kosovo, the homeless and hungry of Indonesia, a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian youth on the West Bank. Frei has created an enthralling yet solemn film about the renowned photographer's daily routine and also his primary motivations, fears and beliefs.


Nachtwey, James.  Inferno (Phaidon Press, 1999). 

A document of war and strife during the 1990s, this volume of photographs by the photojournalist James Nachtwey includes dramatic and shocking images of human suffering in Rwanda, Somalia, Romania, Bosnia, Chechnya and India, a well as photographs of the conflict in Kosovo. An essay by the author Luc Sante is included. The book was published to coincide with an exhibition of Nachtwey's work at the International Centre of Photography, New York.


VII, James Nachtwey, Alexandra Boulat, et.al.  War: USA.Afghanistan.Iraq (de.MO.2004).


War reveals the true story of what our country has faced since that fateful Tuesday in 2001. Featuring 223 photographs, insightful vignettes, and three thought-provoking major essays, WAR is a powerful collaborative effort from VII, a cutting- edge photo agency co-operatively owned by nine elite photojournalists. The three full-length essays, written by eminent journalists Peter Maass, Remy Ourdan, and David Rieff, discuss the three major crises of the 21st century from a social, political, and militaristic standpoint and further illuminate the powerful photographic images in WAR. The photographers of VII — Christopher Anderson, Alexandra Boulat, Lauren Greenfield, Ron Haviv, Gary Knight, Antonin Kratochvil, Christopher Morris, James Nachtwey, and John Stanmeyer — are used to witnessing, up close and in person, events of international turmoil. That is the duty of a photojournalist — to bear witness and to document history — and few would dispute that these photojournalists are the world’s very best.

Nachtwey was one of the few photojournalists who managed to record the destruction at Ground Zero. Rushing towards the place from which crowds of people were fleeing for their lives made perfect sense in the inverted logic of my profession, recalls Nachtwey. He produced some of the most memorable photographs taken that day, several of which are featured in War.

In addition to documenting the experience of 9/11, War takes an incisive look at the images from Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, as well as the airstrikes and US occupation of Iraq. In War, the photographers of VII have created a shockingly intimate portrait of US foreign policy and the most critical moments of American history in the beginning of the 21st century. What you see here will stun you.