Mar 9, 2007

War Photographer

i watched War Photographer yesterday for the second time in as many days.

it was quieter than i expected. i was prepared for the chaos that i'm accustomed to of moving images coming out of Iraq, but Frei's portrait was more subtle. like Nachtwey, or because of him, the film took a track of painful, yet beautiful, introspection as it carried the weight of unfathomable sights. Nachtwey's vision and commitment are astounding, and his contribution to our visual understanding of war, and suffering, is invaluable. these things can not be disputed, but it was more difficult for me decipher how i felt about the film as a whole.

i was left empty after viewing it the first time- exhausted in a way. i watched it again yesterday to find some clarity, but not sure that i did. i felt conflicted in viewing the scene where Nachtwey is working with his printer to find the precise amount of burning in the sky of a particular image. i kept looking at the eyes of the child in that photo, and the detail of the clouds seemed to be of little consequence. i couldn't help but think about the difference between the gallery and the printed page in relation to his work. the photos of the dead in Chechnya, for instance, are invaluable when printed in Time or Stern, but are the same images exploitive once framed and hung on a wall? i realize it's more complicated than that, but it was (is) difficult for me to sift through.

i'd be interested to hear other's views on the film.



Liz said...

One of my favorite features of War Photographer is the video camera mounted on Nachtwey’s still camera. Being able to hear him breathe (or hold his breath), to watch how he interacts with (or doesn’t interact with) the people he photographs, to see what he’s seeing when he releases that shutter, is an invaluable lesson in and of itself. That said, each time I watch the film—and I think I’ve seen it now three or four times—I come away with a similar sense of emptiness. I think some of it stems from Nachtwey’s demeanor or personality. I can’t imagine how it would feel to see what he’s seen in person, and I’m sure he’s had to learn to turn off his emotions to some degree. (It’s been about six months since I last saw the film, but isn’t there a bit about this in there somewhere?) I got the definite impression that he sees great purpose in his work, so turning off his emotions is what he has to do in order to show the world what he’s witnessing—it’s just part of the job. But I think that’s what causes, in me at least, the emptiness you describe.

ben huff said...


you're right- his ability to be in the moment, but at the same time shut it out, is extraordinary.

i guess it's my own pessimism that gets me here. in one of the last scenes in the gallery, a women asks him how he detaches himself, and he explains himself in a very eloquent and compassionate way. but, i guess, there in lies the rub- does it then take away from the impact of the tragedies he's documenting? the fact that someone would be capable of detaching from it? does his incredible ability help, or hurt, his message.

i think the scenario runs the risk of viewers, at the gallery for instance, viewing him as a sort of big game hunter, and not focusing on the subjects.

at the end of the day i just have more questions than answers. i think i've been thinking about this too damn much...

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