Christian Long

James Nachtwey: Searing Photos of War

In TED Talks on April 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Reflection by ALEX D.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

James Nachtwey:  Searing Photos of War

James Nachtwey’s searing photos of war

A picture is worth a thousand words. And words cannot begin to describe some of the photos shown during Nachtwey’s Talk.

There is a difference between a person with a camera and a photographer. A person with a camera can take pictures. A photographer can capture a moment in time, and use it to show happiness, pain, love, and hope. Nachtwey told the audience that he would have to speak from a script, breaking a “Ted Commandment”. This didn’t change the quality of the Talk, because his photographs can speak for him, and expressed more power and emotion that words ever could. Simply by looking at a single one of his photographs, one can feel the emotion captured at the time.

Nachtwey made a remarkable point when he said “[Documentary photography] gives a voice to those who otherwise would not have a voice.” The people on the other end of the lens can’t physically tell you what they’re feeling.

Those that live in lands engulfed by war are the ones that should be reporting the news of their country, not by news companies owned by corporations. The news is supposed to be unbiased, said Darcy S.,[https://tedxproject.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/alisa-miller-the-news-about-the-news/] but through political and economic manipulation, the media has become a business. “Photography is the truth,” said French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, and this has never been truer than now. The pictures taken of famine-stricken lands, tyrannical regimes, and countries that are constantly at war tell the truth. The emotion of the setting, the look on the people’s faces, cannot be changed. A single photo can evoke a plethora of feelings. It is actually more difficult as writer to watch and write about a video with dozens of captivating photos, than to be given a single picture.

It’s humbling, really.

Watching a twenty minute video in the comfort of my home, just for a school project? Some people complain about “this”. Look around, past the safety of your own world, and into the lives of those who are suffering. The pictures shown in the video is really eye-opening, and they have the ability to reach out and touch the audience. The photos have a certain aspect to them that is unexplainable.

When a human looks at another person suffering, or in need, they feel an urge to help.

When I look at these pictures, I feel depressed. Not only for those suffering, but because I’m useless. I feel as though any actions I do won’t actually help the people. The camera lens is like a barrier. I can see what’s happening, but I cannot cross the line to help.

I’d like to finish by discussing three individual pictures that caught my attention.

5:23
War does not just affect those fighting. It affects the children just as much. These children from El Salvador do not yet understand politics or the reason for the civil war. For Nachtwey, “behind the scenes” involves capturing moments like these that show that civil war is not simply soldier versus soldier. It is brother against brother. There is nothing civil about it.

9:13
This picture, for me, is the most shocking. Never could I have imagined that people could look like skeletons, yet still be alive. But he is alive. This man, while on the ground, shows that the oppressed people have the power to stand up for themselves. It’s true, “He had not given up, and if he didn’t give up, how could anyone in the outside world ever dream of losing hope?” This man has nothing left. He is barely clinging to his own skin. But he pushes on, determined to live.

17:30
This picture hits close to home. The September 11 attacks left much physical and emotional damage to the country. I remember the towers. I visited them in New York only months before the attack. No one could have foreseen how the attack has affected us. I have to agree with Ben Lang, who commented on the video on the Ted site. He called to attention the quote, “When I saw the second tower burning I knew we were at war.” He made a point of how people see this incident from a bigger picture, and not as an act of war. One could agree that a country so involved with warfare has adapted to it, and depends on it. Others could say that we as a country must distance ourselves from it.

The picture shows America for what it is. “Americans don’t stay down. We rise up together in times of crisis. We carry on.”

Those in the pictures are all making history. Some are afraid. Others are hopeful that by fighting through the struggle, they will emerge in a world where war and violence is only a painful memory, and not a frightening reality.

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