Beginning in 1981, James Nachtwey has dedicated his career to documenting wars and critical social issues. Motivated by the belief that public awareness is an essential element in the process of change and that photographs of war in the mass media can become a kind of intervention on behalf of peace, he has covered conflicts worldwide. In Europe, he documented the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, the war in Chechnya, and civil unrest in Northern Ireland.
In Africa, he photographed the genocide in Rwanda, famine as a weapon of mass destruction in Somalia and Sudan and the liberation struggle in South Africa. He documented the civil wars that engulfed Central America during the 1980’s, from El Salvador to Nicaragua to Guatemala as well as the U.S. invasion of Panama. In the Middle East, he has covered the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for more then twenty years, as well as the civil wars in Lebanon and most recently the war in Iraq, where he was wounded in a grenade attack.
James Nachtwey began working in Afghanistan during the 1980’s, photographing the resistance to the Soviet occupation, followed by the Afghan civil war, and the offensive against the Taliban in 2001. In 2010, he photographed the American military fighting in Helmand Province. In other parts of Asia, he has documented guerrilla groups at war in Sri Lanka and the Philippines as well as the deadly military crackdown on demonstrators in Bangkok in 2010. Most recently he has documented the refugee crisis in Europe, the earthquake in Nepal and the extra-judicial “war on drugs” in the Philippines.
Nachtwey has pursued social issues throughout the world with equal dedication. Homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, crime and industrial pollution are a few of the subjects he has photographed extensively. Since the year 2000, he has become involved in documenting global health issues in the developing world, recognising that infectious diseases have devastating effects on even greater numbers of people than does war. In 2007 he received a TED Prize, and for his created a global awareness campaign about tuberculosis, believing that mass consciousness helps facilitate funding and research, mobilises donors and motivates political will.
Nachtwey has received numerous awards from the journalism profession, as well as for his contributions to art and to humanitarian causes. In 2001 he received the Common Wealth Award. In 2003, he received the Dan David Prize, and in 2007 the Heinz Family Foundation Award. In 2012 he received the Dresden Prize, for promoting world peace. In 2016, Nachtwey was a recipient of the Princess of Asturias Award.
Five times Nachtwey has been awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal, for exceptional courage and enterprise. He has been named Magazine Photographer of the Year eight times. He’s received the top prize from the World Press Photo Foundation twice, the Infinity Award for photojournalism three times, the Bayeaux Award for war correspondents twice and the Leica Award twice. He has been the recipient of lifetime achievement awards from the Overseas Press Club, TIME, Inc., and the American Society of Magazine Editors. In addition, he has received the Henry Luce Award for corporate leadership, the Leipzig Foundation award for the advancement of freedom of the press, and the Dr. Jean Mayer Global Citizenship Award.
In 2001, “war photographer”, a feature length documentary film about the life and work of James Nachtwey was nominated for an Academy Award. His books include Deeds of War and Inferno.
Nachtwey’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Bibliotheque nationale de France, the Pompidou Center and the Getty Museum among other venues. He has had numerous solo exhibitions worldwide.
Nachtwey has been awarded four honorary doctorate degrees from American universities, including Dartmouth College, which recently acquired the entire archive of his life’s work.