Only hours after we screened War Photographer at the final COBA meeting of 2003, I learned that James Nachtwey — the subject of the documentary — was injured by a grenade attack in Baghdad. A former editor of his from the 80’s mentioned in the film that older combat photographers tend to think of themselves as bulletproof — incapable of being killed on the job. Nachtwey was in danger of thinking of himself as being bulletproof.
War Photographer followed Nachtwey as he photographed global hotspots such as Kosova, Indonesia, Palestine, and Africa. The director Christian Friel outfitted Nachtwey with an ingenious video camera mounted to his Canon camera body. This approach allowed the viewer to see what Nachtwey saw as he photographed the violence and despair surrounding him. I’m not sure if I prepared the COBA crowd in advance of the subject material of the film. I had seen the film a month earlier in the basement of Green Library (their media center is now located there instead of the second floor of Meyer Library), and I was numb after watching it. I suspect the same was experienced by those in attendance.
Nachtwey, along with Time Magazine correspondant Michael Weisskopf and two American soldiers, were wounded when a grenade was thrown into their Humvee. The news reports to date have said one of them was slightly injured and the second was severely injured, but has not named names. Reading the reports reminded me of the ones when Robert Capa died in Indochina from a landmine. Most people would have just chalked it off and said, “Ah, another journalist killed in action… who won the football game?” but those in the know would have understood the loss. Without the work of these war photographers, we would have little documentation (save for the suger-coated media versions) about the major conflicts of our time, WWII, Vietnam, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and others.
The world needs more people like him. For more updates on Nachtwey’s situation in Iraq, check out Google News