The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 8, 2013

Modern war photographers take us all to war


The Washington Post

— No matter how they start, or why, wars are human — the people who fight them, the people caught in their destruction, the people who cover them, all pay a price for a cause. Since the Civil War — the first American conflict photographed — photojournalists have never let us forget that. They have shown us the men and women offering their last full measure for their countries. Sacrifice, heroism, horror, blood, strength, courage, fear, death, hope and faith all mingle inside the stories of war. And it is photography that has brought us these stories with all their emotional depths, fighting the numbing banality of the endless daily numbers: 12 soldiers killed, two car bombs, six-year occupation, 17 taken hostage, eight amputees. For when we see a dead soldier dragged down a dirt road, we feel the outrage. When we witness the palpable fear in a nurse's eyes, we know for an instant about life under a dictator in a foreign land.

For this Veterans Day tribute, we have selected five American photographers who have risked their lives and pushed their cameras across barriers all over the world so that others can witness the unimaginable. Some of them have been shot or kidnapped. Worldwide, dozens have died. Through photojournalists, we have spent time with soldiers trying to figure out who the enemy is, lived among Chechen rebels, fought gunfire with rocks in Gaza streets, truly glimpsed "ethnic cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia. In that sense, we have all gone to war. Here are their stories:

James Nachtwey

El Salvador. Lebanon. Afghanistan. Iraq. Somalia. Bosnia. For almost four decades, Nachtwey has sought the raw, human moments hidden during desperate times in these and other places. His pictures demand your attention, daring you to forget what you have just seen and felt.

His images have appeared in Time magazine and in exhibits in museums and galleries around the world. In 2000 he published a retrospective book titled "Inferno."

"Making a distinction between art and photography always seemed artificial to me," he says. "My decision to become a photographer was deeply influenced by contemporary images of the Vietnam War and the American civil rights movement. I saw the pictures in newspapers and magazines, but their context in journalism did not diminish their visual, emotional or intellectual power. On the contrary, because the images informed a mass population of events that were occurring at the time, they gained an urgency and social value that increased the power they might have had in a purely art context. Before deciding to become a photographer, I visited the Prado museum in Madrid and happened upon Goya's 'Disasters of War.' They were etchings, made before the invention of photography, yet they depicted the barbarity of war with such immediacy, I saw a direct connection with the photographic images of my own time, and considered Goya to be the patriarch of war photographers even though he never used a camera."

Carol Guzy

"Someone once told me it's not imagining how you would feel in a given situation: It's the ability to break through your own veil of life experiences and truly see how someone else is feeling," writes Guzy, who has earned four Pulitzer Prizes as a newspaper photojournalist, most recently for The Washington Post. "We've seen throughout history how selective compassion breeds hate and conflict. In my humble opinion, if all life is not equal to the same level of kindness we wish for ourselves, it becomes the foundation for abuse. And when we turn away from oppression, our silence becomes complicity."

Guzy grew up in Pennsylvania with her mother and trained to be a nurse before picking up a camera. After a stint at the Miami Herald, where she covered the devastating volcanic eruption in Colombia in 1985, Guzy covered the plight of Kosovo refugees, famine in Ethiopia, civil unrest in Haiti, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Hurricane Andrew in Florida.

"It's humbling to witness acts of genuine courage and kindness by those some would unwisely think the least among us. People living in abject poverty offer this stranger their last piece of bread and shelter from harm," Guzy says. "Sometimes the dignity with which people deal with adversity is most revealing. To tell their stories is a privilege. We are challenged in our work not only to examine issues and expose problems but also to find poetry in everyday lives."

Christopher Morris

Drawn to conflict early in his career, Morris endured loneliness and shell shock in Afghanistan in the late 1980s as he learned to survive on the front lines. "The most crucial thing to teach yourself is how to control fear," writes Morris, who also covered the invasion of Panama, the Persian Gulf War and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. "Conflict photography was and still is the art of trying to capture one man attempting to kill another man. This is not an easy task."

Unlike many of his colleagues, Morris chose to have a family, which led to other editorial work, including photographing Republicans in America during the George W. Bush administration. That resulted in his book "My America." Now he shoots fashion as well.

When the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened, however, he was back in Iraq with troops storming into Baghdad. "It's ironic, for my current work is so static and structured. With conflict it was all about attempting to convey the intensity of the situation. While working I was never really consciously trying to emulate movement — it just so happened to be situations that were so very fluid. Sometimes this comes out in an image."

Stanley Greene

It was the eminent photojournalist W. Eugene Smith whose words shaped Greene's career. Smith had warned Greene of becoming a poet of photography, covering topics of little value, because the world needed concerned photographers. It was the 1970s. Greene gave up his life in San Francisco photographing punk and rock stars and moved to Paris, where he immersed himself in the ideas of the cafe society. In 1989 he was solidly in the social-documentary world as he stood, camera in hand, watching the Berlin Wall break apart. Four years later he was the only photographer inside the White House in Moscow when Parliament tried to stage a coup against Boris Yeltsin.

But it was Chechnya and the rebels within that commandeered Greene's attention for the next decade, resulting in his book "Open Wound." "At first war photography seemed like a way to test myself, to exist on a knife-edge where there is constant proof of being alive," writes Greene. "Today covering conflicts is quite simply a very personal form of protest."

Greene's most recent work is of the rebels in Syria.

Lynsey Addario

Recognizing that the oppression of women was a story within the story of the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Addario traveled to Kabul as a freelancer. She photographed weddings and life behind the veil of a burqa. Then 9/11 happened. When war arrived, Addario donned her flak jacket and traveled to the battlefields and prisons of Afghanistan and Iraq as easily as she had visited families and the meeting places of the Taliban. "As a female photojournalist, I fall into this nebulous category of a third sex: I have access to both men and women," she writes. "I can cover combat with my male colleagues, but am also able to work inside the home, in intimate family settings, while it is culturally unacceptable for my male colleagues to do the same." Addario has covered conflicts in Lebanon, Darfur, Congo and Libya and continues to highlight the women and children of war, who suffer the consequences of decisions made around them. In 2009 she received a MacArthur Fellowship.