Monday, 31 August 2015

Looking through Nachtwey’s lens: an up-close-and-personal snapshot of what it takes to be a war photographer

By Ildefonso Ogdoc

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough”. So rang out the words of the late Robert CapaA fitting opening and a clear indication to what was a phenomenal documentary about one of today’s most recognised war photographers: James Nachtwey

War Photographer is an incredibly moving documentary—so intense that some of the live gunshots recorded in the film, made me jump off my seat. From the very first scene we are taken straight into the heart of one of the most dangerous and hostile working environments known to mankind:  the battlefields of war; where you are only a stray piece of shrapnel away from being killed.  

Armed with just his camera, James Nachtwey enters tumultuous fronts, takes countless risks and endures the hardships of war—all to expose the uglier sides of human nature. We see a firsthand account of the mindlessness that is war and the unnecessary atrocities that happen every day, all over the world, because of it.

As you watch, feelings of grief and shock wash over you as some of Nachtwey's finest pictures appear on screen like a fleetingly dark slideshow of the best and the worst. Here, the violence and suffering of war are presented simply: as something awful that happened to this person at this moment. 

The part I enjoyed the most about this film
was the way that Nachtwey's own camera was used to do the actual filming. Director Christian Frei’s ingenuity in mounting a small, movie quality camera atop Nachtwey’s own still camera, to capture the up-close-and-personal action, is what really sets this documentary apart. The end result is that you can watch the scene unfolding as if you were looking through Nachtwey's own lens: watching in fascination, as he transforms scenes of cruelty, chaos, and noise into breathtaking still photographs. Any shutterbugs out there will enjoy this documentary for that aspect alone.

Another interesting feature of the documentary is that it manages to show audiences the quiet personality of James Nachtwey; A distant man, watching from afar, though trying to get as near as possible to the (often life-threatening) scene. The relentless pursuit for the perfect photograph that Nachtwey hopes will appeal to our compassion, is what motivates him to act as if he is entirely bulletproof. Or maybe he is merely taking chances for the sake of his passion. Whatever his reason, it all comes down to these basic human needs: to find purpose in our lives, take the journey and try to fulfil it. This is a reminder for all of us. For that, I am grateful for this film.

Edited by Jessica Donnison

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