War Photographer–Documentary about James Nachtwey

I was bored with watching the usual movies.

So I browsed Netflix’s documentary DVD section and came up with a gem.

Any photography buff with an interest in documentary work will recognize this name: James Nachtwey.

If you had any interest at all in photojournalism or reportage as they call it in Europe, his work is compared to those of Cornel Capa and other “war photographers.”

The big difference is this: James Nachtwey is a very private person. Here’s what he had to say about his role: “The photographer is the medium through which images are channeled…

We’re not the ones in front of the camera. We’re behind. We’re not performers, we’re not athletes, or actors or dancers. The way we move our bodies is not our message… we’re invisible.

After I watched this DVD, I think I understood a little better why.

His drive, his motivation and commitment is second to none.

And yes, that’s him on the ground in the picture of the cover intrepidly working. The picture is not a staged picture.

A few posts back I mentioned the tv reality show “In Harm’s Way” which featured “War Photographers.” Well, that was Hollywood contrived wannabe version of this documentary.
This documentary is as real as it gets. If you don’t believe me, when you get your copy of this DVD, watch the “Special Features” section. The director Christian Frei talks about how Nachtwey would not have agreed to this if he felt he was “acting” or not being himself and being able to work.

Anyone who aspires to follow  his path needs to watch this. It is insightful, never self-indulgent though at times a little depressing. Personally it renewed my faith in photojournalism, that it is powerful enough to create change.

Nachtwey doesn’t even speak a word until 10 minutes into the DVD. Instead director Christian Frei just lets the video and audio do the talking. Where there was music in the video, it never overpowered the audio from the video footage.

This is so similar to the way Nachtwey shoots: black and white and never letting distracting color take over.

Here’s a short clip from the DVD. This clip should whet your appetite enough that you’ll want to go out and buy this DVD.

Much like how Nachtwey works, in black and white, Frei just lets the video footage do the story telling without the distractions of music.

And this DVD isn’t about Nachtwey, it is about his body of work.

There are interviews from fellow journalists most notable is Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent and others. But they don’t rant and rave about Nachtwey.

Instead, what they have to say of Nachtwey tells me he’s extremely passionate and a very firm believer of what he’s doing to the point of being a dinosaur.

I pray that there will not be a shortage of practitioners of this craft.

When that happens, humanity would have lost a breed of soldiers who are willing to battle evil with just a camera at a great sacrifice and we’ll all be lost.

Noteworthy to those of you who are just starting out in photography, Nachtwey works with 2 Canon T-90 bodies: one appears to be a fast wide angle or 50 mm lens and a 16 to 35 mm lens. No long telephoto lenses. No flash either. He seems to favor TMax 400 black and white film. Minolta lightmeter which he uses for incident light readings. I’m curious as to whether he has switched to digital camera. Anyone know?

7 thoughts on “War Photographer–Documentary about James Nachtwey”

  1. Hi James,
    Thanks for your contribution. I’m not too surprised about his using a T-90, the EOS 1n bodies or even digital bodies now.

    I’m fairly certain they’re just tools. Even if he had to use an iPhone, he would be getting images that are as powerful by the very nature of his subject–war and conflicts.

    I am curious about your background as photographer. I couldn’t find a link to your website or work. Thank you again for taking the time to visit my blog.

  2. I thought he was using 2 EOS 1n bodies in War Photographer. He defintely was not using T90’s. I do know that War Photographer was filmed over a 2 year period so maybe some parts he was using a 1v.

  3. Carlo,
    How kind of you to take the time to share that! I suspect he doesn’t use anything that fancy and the 5D Mark2 with full frame sensor would be very similar to film.

  4. Max, war photographer was filmed in 1998. Canon 1V was born in 2000

    In W-P he use for sure a very short zoom, probably 17-35…

  5. I don’t know if you have your answer now, but in War Photographer, He used an EOS 1V with some L lenses like a 17-35. He never work up to 50mm to keep the precious “proximity” with his subjects. I’ve heard that he now works with a 1DS Mark II or/and III. I guess that he probably owns a Canon 5D Mark II.


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