Monday, June 29, 2009

Inspiration: James Nachtwey

Foundations of Photography I
Hadassah Bullis
Doug McGoldrick
May 12, 2009

Wrong Place, Right Time : A War Photographer’s Life

He is a self taught photographer who seems to always get the shot. He is a humanitarian and soldier of journalism. He is my choice for great living photographer and his name is James Nachtwey. I chose Nachtwey because, not only does his work continue to capture the attention of millions, it shares truth with those millions. This truth is that which cannot be expressed adequately in words. It is only great photographers who have the ability to share these truths, without fluff, because only a truly great picture can explain itself.

Born in 1948, James Nachtwey was raised in Massachusetts and became not only a great photographer, but a humanitarian as well. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1970 with a degree in Art History and Political Science. It seemed that at this point in his life he knew he wanted to influence change.

According to his website,, “Images from the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights movement had a powerful effect on him and were instrumental in his decision to become a photographer.” He “[taught] himself photography” while working as “an apprentice news film editor and a truck driver.”(Nachtwey)

Starting in 1976, Nachtwey’s start as a photographer was at a paper in New Mexico, but it wasn’t long before Nachtwey decided he had a need to expand his horizons. He then “moved to New York to begin a career as a freelance magazine photographer” in 1980. Nachtwey’s move to New York treated him well. He “immediately began to get work” and noticed that through photography, he could show “peoples’ authentic emotions.” (War Photographer) His goal was to be a war photographer from the start, focusing on conflicts and their effect on civilization. He now continues in the practice of expelling political lies, just as did the photographers in Vietnam, and “attempts to get the audience deeper into reality, to get them to be concerned with something bigger than themselves.” (War Photographer) Reflecting on the start of his career he says, in the 2001 documentary, War Photographer, “When I finally decided what to do with my life, I decided that’s what I’d do. I’d follow in that tradition.”

It was this humble beginning that started Nachtwey’s thriving thirty year (and still thriving) career in photojournalism. He began photographing on contract with TIME in 1984 and shoots for them to this day with a photo agency called “VII,” which he helped found in 2001. In War Photographer, a Christian Frei documentary on Nachtwey, Nachtwey explains that he used the lens to discover the world, as well as himself. “I had to develop a personal vision to express my own feelings,” he said. I believe this is why Nachtwey’s photography is so capturing. Work that is created when an artist is personally affected is the most meaningful, to both the audience and the artist.

Nachtwey has worked on many essays over the years in as many as twenty-five countries around the world, including: “El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, Israel, Indonesia, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Russia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Romania, Brazil and the United States.”

The hardest assignment Nachtwey has had to recover from was the genocide in Rwanda. He said, “They massacred thousands with very primitive weapons,” and that what he saw “was very difficult to get over.” He admits that, "Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee. I did not want to see this. Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera?" (War Photographer) Still, Nachtwey continues to seek out these stories saying that his photography “is a form of communication, as opposed to art, and provides a grim satisfaction,” because “over the years the real sense of purpose has become stronger.”(War Photographer)
Nachtwey’s humanity and his work’s ability to captivate an audience is what had earned him multiple awards such as: “the Common Wealth Award, Martin Luther King Award, Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award, Henry Luce Award, Robert Capa Gold Medal (five times), the World Press Photo Award (twice), Magazine Photographer of the Year (seven times), the International Center of Photography Infinity Award (three times), the Leica Award (twice), the Bayeaux Award for War Correspondents (twice), the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, the Canon Photo essayist Award and the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant in Humanistic Photography.”(Nachtwey) He has received “an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Arts,” and also, “is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society.”

A statement which I felt was really telling of Nachtwey’s character and personal conviction is this: “Why be photograph war? Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior which has existed for through out history by means of photography the proportions of that notion seems ridiculously out of balance; yet, that very idea has motivated me. For me, the strength of photography lies within the ability to evoke human emotion. If war is the attempt to negate humanity then photography can be the opposite of war, and if used well can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote war. In a way, if and individual assumes the risk by placing himself in a war in order to communicate the rest of the world what’s happening he’s negotiating for peace.”(War Photographer)

I noticed while watching the documentary that Nachtwey moves slowly while documenting his subjects, shooting primarily film, he makes every frame count. I also noticed that he doesn’t shy away from getting in the middle of things while still he somehow manages to stay out of the way. His friend, a cameraman for Reuters named Des Wright, said, “When it becomes up close and personal, that’s Jim.”(War Photographer) Wright also told a story of an instance when he and Nachtwey were in Jakarta covering the student uprisings there in 1998. Nachtwey had called to alert him of a story in progress. He followed some men who were murdering an Amborgese man. They were killing for no other reason than race and Nachtwey got on his knees and begged them not to finish the deed. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t pay any mind to him but this only goes to show that Nachtwey is not just trying to get the photo; what he is doing is trying to promote peace with his photos.

While in the field, Nachtwey’s personal work ethic is to become personally involved with his subjects, if he can. He shares in the film that “in a war, the codes of civil behavior are suspended,” feeling as though he should justify his actions. He goes on to say that he keeps “open his heart” to the people he photographs, trying to understand their situation. He stays with them and moves slowly so they know his intentions are not to intrude, but to “give them a voice” by sharing their story with the world.

Nachtwey, again justifying his work, explains “the worst thing is to feel that as a photographer I am benefiting from someone else’s tragedy. This idea haunts me. It’s something I have to reckon with everyday 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 to the extent that I become accepted by the other, and to that extent I can accept myself.” (War Photographer)

Nachtwey, though this documentary, was able to clarify questions which have been swirling in my head for quite some time. I was never sure if conflict photographers had heart. I thought there would have to be a few who are compassionate and who struggle with epitomizing their subjects’ pain by making a career out of their misfortune. I have learned through my research on Nachtwey that there is humanity associated with photojournalism.

I am not sure if I could ever take pictures like Nachtwey; and, I am not sure I could control my emotions as he does. I am sure, though, that I would like to be able to inspire change, in one form or another.

"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-

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Flip Mino Camcorder

"found my new fav way to waste time...."
Flip Mino Camcorder with Personalized Design - Available only at Check out this unique Flip Mino design. The Flip Mino camcorder combines remarkable video quality in a pocket-sized package. Now personalizable - create your

** The wasting time I previously mentioned was referring to designing Flip camcorders. This is actually a camcorder I helped my sister to design. The design, "Hope," has been posted and is available for purchase. For every twenty Flip MinoHD recorders Flip sells, one will be donated to charity.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going forward

Thursday, I watched (and documented) my oldest niece graduate junior high.

Friday, I shot the second annual "Unity in the Community" softball game for the Wood Dale Baseball Association.

Saturday, I edited, shopped and babysat.

Yesterday, I launched an H|Photography fan site on Facebook. I will be adding to is as often as I can. The Java based uploader on Facebook isn't very friendly with me, but I make it work when I can.

Today, I woke up earlier than normal to babysit and for some odd reason I was in a really good, take charge, productive mood(which never happens at 8:30am). I decided that I needed to get some things done. I started out checking Facebook, as usual, and got excited to see that I was gaining fans on my "page", ok, yeah, I admit, I got a little hyper about it(I love 'likes' and comments on my pics). Then I was vacuuming(love the dyson) and making beef stew that would cook all day. (Mmm, yeah, mom made me a "Susie Homemaker" type.) But to be honest, I didn't want to make dinner, or clean. I wanted to continue editing. I wanted to crank out another album or two for my fan page. I can't remember being more motivated to get editing done and I SO am. So anyway, continuing with my day... I decided that I need to set up a website, with the help of Ben(my brother the IT man of the house), and figure out pricing for the sale of photos, as well as services. Technically, this would become the foundation for my business and I'm getting really excited about it.

I've realized that this is my time to move forward. To pursue everything possible and gain experience. I am looking for an assisting job and hoping for some shadowing opportunities next month, or so. I am also lining up a few clients for later in the summer! As I said, moving forward and SO excited!!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rewind: School's Out.

I've been out of school now for almost 4 weeks. Every day has been a different experience and every tomorrow is basically unplanned. This is what Summer should be right? Relaxation. Rejuvenation. Spontaneity. Boredom.

Yep, you read right, boredom. It is mixed into a healthy portion of aimless web surfing and sleep. But yeah, needless to say, I have plenty of time to think and waste time. I've been wondering today: maybe if I really go all out on the laziness, it'll just go away when it's time to go back to school. I wonder if it'll be the solution to procrastination. Probably not, but hey, it was worth the thought.

Anyway, I've been doing a lot of Facebooking. Some picture editing(I'm determined to catch up, tho it's likely impossible with over 10,000 pics). Oh, that reminds me. I never filled you in on school.

Well, ok, so school was great. I didn't really have as hard of a time with it as I had thought I would. All of my teachers were pretty cool, or at least reasonable. My favorite class ended up being Darkroom I, go figure. My teacher, Mary Rachel Fanning, had to be the most personable and relatable teachers of the semester. of course, while both she and Doug McGoldrick, my Foundations of Photo I teacher, were really fun teachers, there was just an air about Mary Rachel's class that I couldn't get over and I know I made at least one life long friendship in that class.

Moving along, English and French were my "push Hadassah's buttons" classes. Good teachers, but they were classes I really stressed about and dreaded, but ended up really liking in the end.

New Millennium Studies. Now that was a class about life, I guess. It was hard, somewhat pointless at times, and frustrating, but one thing I really liked about it was it's ability to really get me thinking about my ethics in the scope of my career.

As the last week of school approached, I did all I could to be prepared. Other than my photo final, James Nachtwey paper, and my final New Millennium studies presentation, I was pretty much set. Somehow, I pulled off those last few things and I was immediately off to Nashville to celebrate Diamond's graduation.

Wow, long post, but I think you're caught up now.

Here's another shoot from Nashville. I call it- Freedom: Diamond Tucker.
Testing testing 1,2,3... Just verified my blog for mobile posting. Yay! Now maybe i'll actually blog. We'll see. Anyway, just a test, more to come.