Laureate 2004: James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey
has been travelling the world’s crisis spots for more than twenty years now and is arguably the most famous war photographer of our age.

James Nachtwey decided to become a professional photographer in the early 1980s. But he didn’t just want to take pictures of anything; he wanted to be a war photographer. By his own admission, the decision had a lot to do with the Vietnam War and the web of lies surrounding it, how American politics used the war to "dumb the people down."

James Nachtwey 2
James Nachtwey (middle)

Nachtwey has meanwhile been traveling the world’s war zones for over two decades. His first photo reportage in 1981 took him to Northern Ireland. The images he captured there of imprisoned IRA members on hunger strike and their sympathizers eventually went around the world. Northern Ireland was followed by coverage of wars, civil wars and civil unrest. He has worked in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Lebanon. He has photographed in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Indonesia, Thailand, India and Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Philippines, South Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, South Africa, Russia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Romania, Brazil, and time and again his homeland.

He worked as a truck driver, sailed on merchant ships, and filmed news reports for local television stations in order to finance costly equipment. Nachtwey’s first jobs were not assignments; he sought out the sites himself and did what he thought was right and meaningful.

Two years after his first reportages, he was already working for one of the most renowned news magazines in the world, Time. From 1986 to 2001 he was a member of the world-famous Parisian photo agency Magnum. Since 2001, he worked for the  "Agency VII", of which he is a co-founder and which he left in 2011. Since then, he is working for The New Yorker.

Nachtwey’s work has been published and exhibited in museums around the world. The Media Foundation of Sparkasse Leipzig presented an exhibit of his work in May 2004 in its “Kunsthalle.”

The greatest recognition of his work to date came from Swiss director and filmmaker Christian Frei in 2001. Frei made a documentary film about Nachtwey which was nominated for an Oscar right after completion and won the Pulitzer Prize in the summer of 2004.

The film shows an intrepid war photographer in action who for the past twenty years has had a formative influence on the way we see wars. Nachtwey’s work shows us the horror which warring parties seek to cover up and silence.

- 2012: Dresden-Award