When I posted Emerging Photog, I didn’t figure it would create this incredible dialogue about war and peace and the role of the image maker in the mix. Harikrishna, an alumnus of IIT-Madras and now a photojournalism student at the University of Texas, Austin (everyone, APPLAUSE) has had some interesting things to say. But they lie buried in the comments section. Well, no more. Here is his last comment in its entirety:
I have been seriously thinking and debating about the effect of war on photographers particularly after I saw the film War Photographer on James Nachtwey. My conclusions about him as a person came after I spoke to people who have interacted with him. All of them deeply admire his courage, but they are equally saddened by how the war adrenaline addiction has sapped the life out of him. He hopes to change the world with his photographs, but sadly things have only gone worse in the world since he has been making pictures. There seems to be no hope in almost all his pictures. What we see is just hopelessness and emptiness. Can they inspire us for a better world? I am yet to meet someone who would not be utterly dejected after seeing his book Inferno. There seems to be no hope in the world of James Nachtwey. Only desolation and destruction. Can such a tunnel vision change our hearts to make peace with each other? I dont know. This has lead to a lot of soul searching in my own personal life. Can we separate our work and our life? Would Nachtwey’s vision of the world be same if he had a personal life where he enjoy simple pleasures? I dont mean to pass any judgements about his personal life, but the issue I am interested in is the Cause and Effect.
Somehow Larry Towell‘s war photographs comes to my mind. I read his pictures differently. They touch me more than some graphic war pictures made under herioc circumstances. There is no heroism or adreneline rush in Larry Towell’s. His pictures are quiet. They make me reflect on the situation. Nachtwey’s pictures make me think about the photographer. I am caught in the photographic composition. The light and everything else. Everything except the meaning.
Each image maker has her/his own approach to the subject at hand. Bearing witness to the horrors of war or the pleasures of life is a gift. The resulting images, which can be pedantic, need not be so all the time. Don’t the images which hit us over the head and instruct also desensitize us in the long run? “Yet another image of a starving child,” we say. The images may have been shot by Nachtwey, Eugene Richards or Mary Ellen Mark. That doesn’t matter. As Harikrishna laments, isn’t it time we focused on our subjects rather than ourselves? I am curious how you bring empathy to what you do and with those you work – no, you don’t have to be a photographer to answer that question.
In asking you to do this, I am reminded of Robert Cole’s book – The Call Of Service. Coles, a Harvard university professor and psychiatrist who started the moribund DoubleTake magazine is a wonderful teacher. When I lived in Boston, I snuck into one of his sessions and was astounded by the breadth his knowledge. The book, which “examines the idealistic motives of people who engage in volunteer work, community service or civil rights activism,” is a fascinating read and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
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