Portrait: Marco Grob

Photojournalist James Nachtwey is considered by many to be the greatest war photographer of recent decades. He has covered conflicts and major social issues in more than 30 countries.

James Nachtwey grew up in Massachusetts and graduated from Dartmouth College, where he studied Art History and Political Science (1966-70). 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 has worked aboard ships in the Merchant Marine, and while teaching himself photography, he was an apprentice news film editor and a truck driver.

In 1976 he started work as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico, and in 1980, he moved to New York to begin a career as a freelance magazine photographer. His first foreign assignment was to cover civil strife in Northern Ireland in 1981 during the IRA hunger strike. Since then, Nachtwey has devoted himself to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues. He has worked on extensive photographic essays in 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.

“I have been a witnes, 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. He was associated with Black Star from 1980 – 1985 and was a member of Magnum from 1986 until 2001. In 2001, he became one of the founding members of the photo agency, VII. 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, El Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, Fahey/Klein Gallery in Los Angeles, the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston, the Canon Gallery and the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam, the Carolinum in Prague,and the Hasselblad Center in Sweden, among others.

“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 withthe responsibility of being there with a camera”

He has received numerous honours 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 Bayeux Award for War Correspondents (twice), the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, the Canon Photo essayist Award and the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant in Humanistic Photography. He is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society and has an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Arts.

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There are 4 comments on this post
  1. Maurice Dogue
    January 12, 2016, 1:38 am

    What respect I have for the photographers that can, “do the dirty work”, so the rest of us can better understand what is happening in the world. Thank you James Nachtwey. I can’t help but feel his images of reality. We want to look away but, must see.

  2. Liz Douglas
    January 13, 2016, 9:56 pm

    He is one of the greatest Photojournalists of all time. With a few photos he can tell a story and make the viewer feel what is happening. I did my Final on him in school and it changed my ideas of a Photographers responsibility to try to make the world a better place.

  3. Lainer
    January 27, 2016, 5:02 pm

    I am in awe of James Nachtwey’s work, strength and courage in these war torn places. He is one of my favorite photographers, because of his ability to work through his fear and then prevail with stunning work.

  4. Toby Madrigal
    June 03, 2018, 6:43 pm

    Those who have (unwisely) travelled to far-off lands and photographed dreadful sights, retain strong memories long after return and the images have been disseminated. These memories have a profound effect upon our being.
    It is no exaggeration to say that we are haunted by what we saw. In my case, this included burnt out houses where the doors and windows were barred with the people, innocent people, inside and set fire to. The sight of blackened bodies with flesh burnt away will forever haunt me. No wonder no publication wanted to use my pix. Yet I could not bring myself to actually burn my material so I have secreted it under the floorboards of my cottage for future generations to find together with my account of an adventure in the early 1990s that I very much regretted making. I was young, yes, armed with an old Canon F1 and a few lenses and some film. To All those out there who would like to be a photojournalist going to a combat zone, I say think again. Train your digital cameras on the built environment, take up the cause of rampant building on green belt land and join the protest against this dreadful shame. Forget war zones, you’ll be f&£?ed-up for life, as I am.

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