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A Movie to Own: ‘War Photographer’ By Christian Frei

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I am not a movie critique so I don’t know all of the standard rhetoric used in movie reviews. All I can tell you about “War Photographer,” a documentary by Christian Frei, is that if you have any interest in photography at all, you should own this film.

In this film, Frei documents the life of acclaimed war photographer James Nachtwey. Using classic interview techniques and special micro-cams attached to Nachtwey’s gear, we follow Nachtwey through conflicts in Indonesia, Kosovo and Palestine.

'War Photographer,' By Christian Frei. (Photo Credit: War Photographer Official Website)

'War Photographer,' By Christian Frei. (Photo Credit: War Photographer Official Website)

For those of you who have never heard of James Nachtwey, he is well worth your time researching. Images from the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights Movement inspired him to become a conflict photographer. In 1980, he moved to New York to begin his career as a freelance photojournalist. His first foreign assignment was to cover civil unrest in Northern Ireland in 1981. Since then, he has covered wars, conflicts and social issues.

I would like to present to you Nachtwey’s Credo in an effort to not only summarize his philosophical view on being a war photographer but also to summarize the intent of the film:

“For me, the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war and if it is used well it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war.

“In a way, if an individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war in order to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening, he is trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that is the reason why those in charge of perpetuating a war do not like to have photographers around.

“It has occurred to me that if everyone could be there just once to see for themselves what white phosphorous does to the face of a child or what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet or how a jagged piece of shrapnel can rip someone’s leg off – if everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief, just one time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands.

“But everyone cannot be there, and that is why photographers go there – to show them, to reach out and grab them and make them stop what they are doing and pay attention to what is going on – to create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference – to protest and by the strength of that protest to make others protest.

“The worst thing is to feel that as a photographer I am benefiting from someone else’s tragedy. This idea haunts me. It is something I have to reckon with every day because I know that if I ever allow genuine compassion to be overtaken by personal ambition I will have sold my soul. The stakes are simply too high for me to believe otherwise.

“I attempt to become as totally responsible to the subject as I possibly can.

“The act of being an outsider aiming a camera can be a violation of humanity. The only way I can justify my role is to have respect for the other person’s predicament. The extend to which I do that is the extent to which I become accepted by the other, and to that extent I can accept myself.”

Written by jeremyparce

February 21, 2009 at 2:59 am