James Nachtwey, photographer of the world’s drama

Afghanistan, Kabul, 1996 © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

James Nachtwey is a photographer who witnesses drama. Drama everywhere and the retrospective of his work as a photo reporter at Maison Européenne de la photographie, “Memoria” is so tragic that I would recommend that you go on a sunny day and with a good friend. I can’t even imagine what opening night was like with trendy ladies on their Louboutin heels being confronted to children dying of hunger in Somalia. It is the most important photo show of the moment, so don’t miss it.

New York, 2001 © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

I have to admit I had to walk fast in front of some of the photos. One is nowadays sadly accustomed to seeing war scenes, wounded children, dead bodies being carried in the survivors arms. In the Balkans in 1993, in Ramallah in 2000, in Rwanda in 1994, in Baghdad in 2003, in Afghanistan in 1996. Nachtwey went everywhere, and with his piercing eye shot the most beautiful pictures.

USA, New York, 2001. Dwarfed by the epic scale of the tragedy, firemen search in vain for survivors. © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

He was in New York on 9/11 and had access to the site, and because he had already covered many crime scenes in Harlem or New Orleans, prison’s violence in Arizona and in Alabama, he knew how to cover this event. The versatility of the photographer is extraordinary: he covered TB victims and aids victims in Mumbai, Phnom Penh and Lusaka. He followed heroin addicts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, earthquake victims in Nepal in 2015, and photographed refugees in Lesbos and Idomeni in 2015-2016.

Bosnie-Herzégovine, Mostar, 1993 © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

I have always particularly loved his pictures of Afghan ladies in chador. One of them in the middle of a cemetery was shown many years ago at Bibliothèque nationale in the Magnum show. His words “I have been a witness and these pictures are my testimony, the events I have recorded should not be forgotten and not be repeated” are modest and powerful. While watching the 139 prints, one has the feeling that he was always in the right place at the right time with the intelligence of a political science thinker and an artist.

Occupied Palestinian territories, Cisjordanie, 2000 © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

Born seventy years ago in Syracuse, NY, James Nachtwey studied political science at Dartmouth. He is well known among his peers for waiting for hours for the good shot and for documenting events in the most thorough way. He has given his archives to the Univeristy’s Hood museum in order to preserve the integrity of his coverage.

Sudan, Darfour, 2003 © James Nachtwey Archive, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth

His career is in itself a history book of the last thirty years, where he outlines the great moments of our times, the war in Northern Ireland, the earthquake in Haiti and Nepal,  the refugees in Croatia, the pollution in Eastern Europe, medical scandals and so many terrifying wars.

He is the perfect image of a fighter.

Until July 29, MEP 5-7 rue de Fourcy in the Marais

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