Windows into War

On my first international assignment for Sojourners, I joined a medical team bound for war-torn Sudan, determined to photograph the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the world. The experience was humiliating. Unable to enter Sudan because of red tape and denied flight clearances, I was stuck in a forgotten corner of northwest Uganda, my ambition to be a war photographer stymied. I was still able to tell an important story of an impoverished and suffering people there in Uganda, but I missed the "big" story. I struggled with the question: Am I only motivated by the mystique, the bravado, and the rush of going where most fear to tread? Or am I a journalist because I care about people—regardless of how high the profile of their predicament?

I was drawn to Christian Frei’s documentary film War Photographer because I wanted to see James Nachtwey, the film’s subject and one of the world’s foremost living war photographers, in action. For nearly 30 years, Nachtwey—the recipient of every major photography award—has dedicated himself to covering the suffering and violence of war. Frei followed Nachtwey for two years. The result is a powerful look at how this shy, unassuming man views the world—literally. A tiny video lens mounted on the top of Nachtwey’s still camera allows us to see everything that he sees.

Images of the Vietnam War propelled a young Nachtwey to war photography—images that he felt told the truth about the conflict and subverted government distortions. And though drawn by war’s adventure and excitement, his motivation soon shifted to the people he photographed and his desire to help them tell their own story.

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Sojourners Magazine February 2004
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