Everyday Activist - War Photographer (2001)

Posted on Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 06:00 PM

War Photographer (2001)

Movie Review by Everyday Activist X CalgaryMovies.com

I have watched movies, but until recently I haven’t been in the headspace to write intelligently about anything. A Yukon acquaintance of mine, Peter Mather, recently won third place for the World Press Photo Award in the Nature Stories section. Well deserved as he makes, wolverines, elusive creatures of the high arctic, seem accessible. On his Instagram, he was bummed that he won third and referred to the prize as the Oscars of photography. Of course I corrected him, in disbelief that I personally know someone who made this list, which is more like the Nobel Prize for photography and more importantly social justice. Tim Hetherington won in 2008 (Which Way is the Frontline From Here?), Nick Ut won in 1973 for Napalm Girl inspiring Jim Nachtwey to bear witness to human tragedy all over the world for decades, winning World Press Photo twice in 1993 and 1995.

Because the film War Photographer is almost 20 years old, it took me a few minutes to adjust to Nachtwey looking so young, given he’s now in his 70s and that the conflicts covered in the movie including Kosovo and Rwanda would have been fairly recent in 2001. His calm demeanor and careful speech underline how he has managed to survive difficult circumstances, while documenting people suffering. Unlike Hetherington, who joined the ranks of war photographers who didn’t have the chance to grow old, Nachtwey was always mindful of his mission to expose the human condition not only in war. His photos documented famines, poverty and other injustice.

Despite his international accolades, Nachtwey never won a Pulitzer Prize. Some of his best photos were taken inside US prisons, which may have been too risque for the Pulitzer committees. Another important story was documenting poor people in Indonesia. A man had lost limbs in a train accident, but still did his best to take care of his family. This touched people, even those who barely had means to support themselves, to reach out across the globe to offer assistance to strangers.

Nachtwey, Ut and Hetherington documented suffering, while understanding that they could do something in the immediate present. After taking the photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, Napalm Girl, Ut dumped water on her and took her to hospital, saving her life. Until I saw the CBC, Brief but Spectacular short documentary, I had no idea she survived and thrived. The films featuring Nachtwey and Hetherington show their habit of “interfering” with documentary subjects to save lives.

War Photographer is on Kanopy, available free with a Calgary Public Library card. I’ll probably watch it again. Photography is such an intimate art that I never tire watching masters at work. The Camera Store in Calgary sponsored Peter Mather to come to Banff for the Banff Mountain Film + Book Festival, where in a previous year, his photo essay was shortlisted. Chris Burkard won, but I voted for Pete! He recognized my name, because he taught my cousin math in high school in Whitehorse, before dedicating his time to photography and social activism. I’m sure he’ll be up for another World Press Photo Award in years to come. 

Calgary Showtimes:  War Photographer (2001) >


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