Sunday, February 26, 2012

Peace Photographers

I am always fascinated by near death experiences. His last words, her last record, his last film or: her last interview.

Marie Colvin's last interview for CNN, seen with the knowledge that hours later she would be dead, sent a cold shiver down my spine, a feeling of rage, helplessness and grief. 

shelling a city of cold, starving civilians: Marie Colvin

What does Syria's president for now, Bashar al-Assad, hope to achieve with the relentless, indiscriminatory shelling of Homs? His claim is that Homs is a hotbed of terrorists aiming to overthrow his broadly loved regime in Damascus. But fighting terrorists with tanks? Only the Neocons in Washington could ever believe that the war on terrorism could be won this way. There must be something else that makes his denying brain click and tick. The example of a ruthless and powerful father figure can be overwhelming. We all follow patterns we have learned as a child.

Along with Marie Colvin, a young French photographer was killed, Rémy Ochlik, who just won the first prize in the general news category of the prestigious 2012 World Press Photo contest. We all know Rémy's pictures from Libya. They have entered our collective memory. 

the battle for Libya: Rémy Ochlik

Can you still get away with murder in these times of YouTube and online citizen journalists? The world and our perspective on the world has certainly changed since Hama 1982. What is the value of a common man in the calculations of a geopolitical battle? Depending on the political value your regime has for the powers that be, the ordinary citizen may still be quickly reduced to rubble.

What are these journalists and photographers, going to places like Homs, where bullets fly and people die, looking for? Are they war addicts, thrill seekers, Johnny Knoxville-type jackasses? None of this above, says German film director Wim Wenders, in his eulogy for James Nachtwey - don't worry, the man is still alive - on the occasion of the Dresden (Peace) Prize that was awarded to Nachtwey a few days ago. Quoting Wim Wenders: I'm aware that the word I'm going to use is somewhat antiquated, and it's probably difficult to translate. This man (Nachtwey) is a "Menschenfreund", a lover of humanity, and therefore an enemy of war.

Rémy Ochlik went to where it hurts and so did James Nachtwey. The most famous war photographer of our times. He has been to Latin America, to Afghanistan, to Lebanon, to Chechnya, meticulously documenting the horrors of these war torn countries and the suffering of the people affected. Every picture of James Nachtwey is a story. But why does he photograph war, what is the inner purpose of his craft? 

going where it hurts: James Nachtwey

James Nachtwey was featured in "War Photographer", a film by Swiss director Christian Frei, nominated for an Oscar as best documentary in 2002. So why do you photograph war, James Nachtwey?

photography as an antidote to war

Armed with his camera, a photographer thrown into the misery of Misrata, Homs or Darfur, is shooting back at war, literally backfiring. Is the term "war photographer" still appropriate? Wim Wenders is out to change our notion. We should stop calling him (Nachtwey, again) a "war photographer". Instead, look upon him as a man of peace, a man whose longing for peace makes him go to war and expose himself, in order to make peace. He hates war with a passion, and loves mankind with even more compassion. 

From now on, I shall refer to these compassionate men and women as "peace photographers". Rest in peace, Rémy Ochlik. Your life, your work, your death have made an impression on me.

peace photographer: Rémy Ochlik in Cairo