The War Photographer

Cover of "War Photographer"

Cover of War Photographer

It has been one week precisely since I have met with my Media Ethics class. It has taken me this long to even try to grapple with how I feel about our last class. Tonight we will have to discuss it so I figure I’d try to sort it out here.

Last week we watched the documentary, The War Photographer. I feel like I am a changed person. I am not sure it is in a good way.

The movie tells the story of James Nachtwey who is a professional war photographer. To say that the movie is shocking would be a profound understatement. The video was told of his life experiences as a war photographer through his own interview, interviews of those closest to him, live video footage and the still photography that he took. It starts out showing fairly benign interviews and then switches over to violent video footage without warning. It toggles back and forth like this throughout the entire movie. Thus, you are not prepared for the extreme violence when it is shown.

This is a form of violence I had not allowed myself to be exposed to before. I do not like violent movies or violence on the history channel – I pretty much shelter myself from it.

At the point that a man was bludgeoned to death by an angry mob on the street and his head was cut off with a dull knife I had to excuse myself. I had to run to the bathroom to vomit. Seriously. I threw up.

I walked around the halls of the school building for several long minutes before I could muster up the courage to go back to class. I stared at the wall for most of the remainder of the class period. When the movie was over, I was first out the door. I did not even say good-bye to my friends in the class. When I got to my car, I locked myself in and lost it. I cried so hard the entire way home. I slept with the TV on for the first two nights after class so that the laugh track on the nocturnal sit com re-runs would somehow ward away the images that I couldn’t seem to repress from my mind. They are there each time I close my eyes. I can’t suppress them.

I am intensely grateful for the job James Nachtwey does. He brings to us images of war that may not reconcile with what our media would have otherwise presented to us. It forces us to think about global issues differently. I admire this man. He is a man of such pure honesty and respect. The people he photographs willingly allow themselves to be photographed by him.

I was sickened after this movie and a bit irate. My rage was not focused. I was disgusted that these images were permanently imbedded in my mind; I was disgusted that these atrocities occur at the hands of my partners in the human race but I was also disgusted in myself.

I am an adult who is seeking a higher education about life, the world and my place in it, yet I cannot bear to watch this. How immature is that?

My good friend in class is from Sudan. She sat next to me during the film. I couldn’t bear to look at her. I was ashamed of how childlike my behavior was. What gave me the right to be upset by a MOVIE? She lives in a country in crisis. I felt like a spoiled American with a full belly, a bottle of fresh water and a banana in my backpack with a Starbucks coffee in my hand.

We are going to have to discuss this tonight in class.

I don’t really want to talk about it.


Filed under adult education, Alicia Legg, Continuing Education, No Adult Left Behind

11 responses to “The War Photographer

  1. WasASimons

    Although not nearly as violent and graphic as the documentary you describe I felt the same way about a movie I recently viewed, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Have you seen it? It came highly recommended by a friend and I couldn’t wait to see it. After I watched it I felt sick to my stomach, not because of any violence portrayed but because of the lack of humanity it forced you to face. I am still mad at my friend for not giving me a head up!

    • Wendy, you are right. The movie the Pianist stuck with me for years. It wasn’t because of the violence, but it was for the same reasons that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas stuck with you. You said it beautifully. The lack of humanity. I have a copy of that movie and I am glad to know how it bothered you before I watched it. Knowing this, I will watch it. Just not this week.

  2. Melissa

    All I can say is that I hope writing about your feelings was even remotely cathardic for you. You wirte so honestly and open about it. You aren’t alone. We human beings do sometimes wear blinders and are not focused on the issues that surround us. I hope you find the strength to talk about some of what you wrote. It is so relatable to many of us out there. Thank you for your open and honest account today.

    • Melissa, you are right – we do wear blinders. It is so infrequently when something takes us outside of our comfort zone like this. It makes me wonder what real problems I truly have. I can’t think of one at the moment.

  3. Well said….. I am sorry that documentary has to be a part of your education, but am glad you shared it with us so I too can appreciate what I have as a free American.

    • Thank you Jerry. You know, I am not really sorry that it was part of my education. I think I was that night and perhaps a few days after. I am starting to feel better about the experience now that some time has passed. I think we all have to be prepared to be uncomfortable when faced with the truth of the world. This has made me wonder though what my small portion can be to right some of the wrongs. I haven’t found worked that out yet, but at least I am now thinking along those lines. Jerry, you are so right to remind us that we should have an immense gratitude for the freedoms we have as Americans. And we should remind ourselves of that each day.

  4. Dierdre

    Ali… your post today literally moved me to tears. I too, have done my best to shelter myself from the “truth” of the violence that has engulfed mankind since the beginning of time.. since Cain slain Abel and the first murder was committed, so many atrocities have been committed at, as you so aptly say, the hands of (our) partners in the human race.” I never saw Platoon, The Last Apocolypse, Full Metal Jacket, Pearl Harbor, Saving Private Ryan, Black Hawk Down or pretty much ANY serious war movie because simply I couldn’t bring myself to face such a terrifying reality or indelibly burn such images in my mind forever.

    I’m still not sure that’s a bad thing, but after reading your blog, I have to admit, just as the Passion of the Christ moved me to better appreciate the sacrifice that He made for our salvation, watching movies like that has to make a person better appreciate the sacrifices armed forces around the world make every day on behalf of their country (and in many cases, all mankind) to make the world a safer place.

    Very moving piece Ali. Thanks for sharing it with all of us out here in blogosphere!


    • Dierdre, your reply was terrific. I could relate to so much of what you said – I haven’t watched any of those movies you mentioned for the exact same reason you site. What I love about your response though, is that it made me think of it differently. The entire perspective of this film was based on the civilians that are affected by war and the life of the photographer who captures it. It certainly elevated him to a hero status in my book. You are right – we have soldiers that witness these very conditions every day of their lives. How do they do it? They don’t have a choice like I did to stare at the wall. Thank you Dierdre for reminding me of their perspective too. I should never forget – two of my good friends are in Afganistan right now. God bless them and all of the soliders.

      • Your post is very moving… really shows your humanity. I haven’t taken the class yet, but I’ve heard some of our classmates discussing it. We certainly are sheltered from understanding what our soldiers see on the battlefield. I served in the Navy during peacetime, and I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot comprehend the difficulties our armed forces deal with during and after battle. One of my family friends is a Marine, recently wounded in battle in Afghanistan with his best friend killed next to him. A New York Times article profiled his unit a few days prior to his wounding. The article quoted him in the midst of a heated battle. It was difficult to read. I can’t imagine being his mother reading that article. Your post reminded me of that situation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Thanks for the nice comments Wade. This experience is still with me. I can’t believe how I cannot shake it.

  6. Pingback: A sure fire way to win a Pulitzer Prize | No Adult Left Behind

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