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James Nachtwey Biography

He has been a part of some of our countries’ defining moments and events since the 1960’s, and he’s still going strong today. There are few who have made the impact on their field of work that James Nachtwey has on photography, specifically war photos, but, then again, there are few people like James Nachtwey.

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Nachtwey was born in Syracuse, New York in 1948. As a young boy, his family moved to Massachusetts, where he spent the remainder of his childhood. In 1966, at the age of 18, Nachtwey enrolled in Dartmouth College, located in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Dartmouth, Nachtwey studied Art History and Political Science from 1966 until the summer of 1970, when he graduated. Before his graduation, however, Nachtwey would make a name for himself with some very powerful pictures of of important events happening during the time he was in college, including the Civil Rights Movement, the big story at home, and the Vietnam War, the big story abroad that related to America.

Nachtwey seemed to have an eye for capturing the anguish and pain involved in terrible events, which could explain his involvement in taking pictures of conflict, from the beginning of his career until today. In addition to covering the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, Nachtwey has covered poverty in such countries as Romania, Somalia, India, Sudan, Bosnia, Rwanda, Zaire, Chechnya, and Kosovo, most of which appeared in “Inferno,” a 480-page book published in 2000 containing 382 photographs. Nachtwey has also covered the first Gulf War, as well as the most recent war taking place in Iraq.

Nachtwey never received any formal training in the field of photography; rather, he taught himself the skill while working on ships in the Merchant Marine. He also was an apprentice news film editor and a truck driver, where he furthered his knowledge of photography. His first job in the field came in 1976, when Nachtwey moved to New Mexico to begin work as a newspaper photographer. After becoming well acquainted with the world of photography, Nachtwey headed for the Big Apple in 1980. In New York, he was hired as a freelance magazine photographer, where he was sent to photograph the conflict in Northern Ireland, which was going on during the early 1980’s. Since 1981, Nacthwey has also covered events in South Korea, Thailand, Sri Lanka, South Africa, El Salvador, Lebanon, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Brazil, the West Bank and Gaza, and Afghanistan. He has spent lots of time in recent years in those last two places, documenting the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, as well as the War in Afghanistan following September 11.

Nachtwey’s work as a freelance photographer grabbed the attention of Time magazine, one of the premier newsmagazines in the country, which over many decades has gained a reputation as displaying excellent photographs. In 1984, Time signed Nachtwey as a contract photographer, a position he has held ever since. Nacthwey’s status, at least in the world of photography, has gone to that of a celebrity, as he as appeared in hundreds of issues of Time since joining the staff in 1984.

In addition to working for Time, Nachtwey has been a member of the staff of Black Star magazine, a position he held from 1980 until 1985. He was also a member of Magnum, a position he left in 2001. His photo essays have been made into exhibitions at some of the most well-known and prestigious art museums in the world, including the Palazzo Esposizione in Rome, the Hasselblad Center in Sweden, the International Center of Photography in New York, the Hood Museum of Art at his alma mater, Dartmouth College, El Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid, the Carolinum in Prague, and the Canon Gallery and Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam.

Nachtwey has been recognized for his greatness in photography by winning numerous awards. IN addition to winning the Alfred Eisenstaedt Award, the Canon Photo essayist Award and the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Grant in Humanistic Photography each one time, he has been the recipient of many awards on multiple occasions. He’s won the World Press Photo Award twice, Magazine Photographer of the year six times, the International Center of Photography Infinity Award three times, the Beyeaux Award for War Correspondents two times, and has won the Robert Capa Gold Medal, possibly the most prestigious of all his accomplishments, and record five times. In addition to his numerous awards, Nachtwey is a member of the Royal Photographic Society and retains an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts, courtesy of the Massachusetts College of Arts. And, in March of 2003, Nachtwey was awarded the Dan David Prize for Present Time Dimension/Print & Electronic Media, an honor he shared with Frederick Wiseman. The annual award gives $1 million to someone who has made an outstanding scientific, technological, cultural, or social impact on our world. Each year fields are chosen within Three Dimensions – Past, Present, and Future.

Along with “Inferno,” Nachtwey published “Deeds of War,” which is now out of print, in 1989, and his photo essays for Time are regularly make headlines, especially the essay that was put together compiled of photos from September 11. Nachtwey was also the subject of the film War Photographer with Christian Frei in 2002.

Today, Nachtwey continues to live in New York, and continues to put together jaw-dropping photo essays and pictures for Time magazine. He’s been going strong for nearly four decades now, and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.