Photojournalist Michael Kamber, a recipient of the World Press Photo Award, has worked in the field for more than twenty-five years. He covered the war in Iraq as a writer and photographer for the New York Times between 2003 and 2012, and he was the paper’s principle photographer in Baghdad in 2007, the war’s bloodiest year. His new book, Photojournalists on War: The Untold Stories from Iraq, includes illustrated interviews with three dozen of the world’s leading photojournalists about their experiences in Iraq. Brian Sholis spoke with Kamber by phone.
An Iraqi woman holds the hand of her dying husband as he lies among the bodies of their children, who were also killed by a suicide bombing during the Shi’ite festival of Ashura. The mother is the only family member to survive. March 2, 2004. Karbala, Iraq
A wounded Iraqi soldier seconds after an IED strike that killed one US soldier and wounded 2 Americans and one Iraqi. The soldiers were taking part in the search for the three US soldiers captured several days earlier. Anbar, 2007
“For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war.”
“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 is considered by many to be the greatest war photographer of recent decades. For the past three decades, James Nachtwey has devoted himself to documenting wars, conflicts and critical social issues, working 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.
Nachtwey has been a contract photographer with Time since 1984. However, when certain stories he wanted to cover – such as Romanian orphanages and famine in Somalia – garnered no interest from magazines, he self-financed trips there. He is known for getting up close to his subjects, or as he says, “in the same intimate space that the subjects inhabit” and he passes that sense of closeness on to the viewer.
In putting himself in the middle of conflict, his intention is to record the truth, to document the struggles of humanity, and with this, to wake people up and stir them to action.
Afghanistan, 1996 – Land mine victims learned to walk on prosthetic legs at ICRC clinic.
James Nachtwey photograph for TIME magazine.
James Nachtwey’s pictures now are taken mostly in black and white since his colored pictures were criticized by the public and seen as “too pretty” for the importance of the issue encountered in the images.
The fact that now James takes mostly black and white pictures shows a certain feeling of darkness to the image as well as paying homage to the victims.
What makes James Nachtwey style different from the other photographers is the fact that he infiltrates himself in the moment of the action and even risks his life to take his images, which gives it a deepness and strength.
James Nachtwey doesn’t have a specific technique in taking his pictures; he only wants to make people aware of the important social issues occurring around the world. His images makes the viewer enter in the privacy of those events, which are rarely showed on television or newspapers.
For James Nachtwey content always comes before aesthetics. One important technique that he frequently uses is the depth of field with gives his picture more profound meaning.
Nachtwey had been injured previously in his work, but it was during his extensive coverage of the United States invasion of Iraq that he received his first combat injury.
As Nachtwey, along with Time correspondent Michael Weisskopf rode in the back of a Humvee with the United States Army “Tomb Raiders” Survey Platoon, an insurgent threw a grenade into the vehicle. Weisskopf grabbed the grenade to throw it out of the humvee, but it exploded in his hand.
Two soldiers were injured in the explosion, along with the Time journalists. Nachtwey managed to take several photographs of medic Billie Grimes treating Weisskopf before passing out. Both journalists were airlifted to Germany and later to hospitals in the United States.
Nachtwey recovered sufficiently to return overseas to cover the tsunami in Southeast Asia of December 26, 2004.
I chose these photographs to present as with the Iraq ones by Michael Kamber the Saddam Hussein statue being pulled down would be a rather iconic photograph as it shows history and a well-known moment. I chose the other two as it’s interesting to see the aftermath of war rather than war itself, so showing the blood and injuries is an eye-catching sight, also I like how the wounded solider is framed in the doorway of the building.
With the James Nachtwey photographs I again thought it would be interesting to show the injuries of war by showing the men with the prosthetic legs, showing the lifelong injury that war has caused them. The other photographs I decided to show by Nachtwey were of Afghanistan, again showing injuries but also the one of the crowd of men covered in blood, I wanted to show this because even though they’re covered in blood they’re still standing and parading the streets with weapons, which shows how much defending their country means to them.
The final photograph by Nachtwey from Afghanistan I chose was purely because of how different it was to all the other war photographs, this photograph almost doesn’t look like it’s from the war. If I didn’t know it was a war photograph I’d of thought it was from London riots or something like that as the people in the photograph are dressed like a youth and with there being no soldiers, tanks or guns it doesn’t look very war-like.
The reason for choosing 9/11 photographs was because I think they’re very powerful images as there’s a lot of detail in the shots and the composition of them is amazing. In the first one you can see all the rubble of the tower and the firemen clearing it up and what looks like searching for survivors, as well as this the fireman’s facial expression says a lot as it looks like he’s really upset or doesn’t know what to think by the blank expression on his face.
The second 9/11 photo I chose was because of the way the photograph is framed in the shattered glass of a smashed window and with it being a wider shot you can see the damage that was caused better than it the first photograph and you can see how many firemen and paramedics had to come to aid the situation.
Finally I chose the third 9/11 photo as to me it’s an interesting shot as with the lack of anything in the background and how empty the area is it looks more like a photograph of a possible apocalypse rather than a photograph of 9/11, the survivors or paramedics, whoever they may be look very zombie like as well, ,mainly the person in the middle but it all looks very apocalyptic to me.