James Nachtwey receives the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for his remarkable ability to use his camera to capture the resiliency, strength and faith of humanity in the face of conflict.
A globe-trotting photographer, Mr. Nachtwey's disquieting yet honest images of war and strife have captured the human anguish wrought by conflicts around the world for more than a quarter century. His heartrending perspective on personal drama has enriched understanding of humanity in all its dimensions and, as with any artist, has challenged audiences to confront many unsettling yet essential truths.
Drawn to photography through images of the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights Movement, Mr. Nachtwey taught himself how to use a camera while serving as a Merchant Marine. In 1976, he landed his first job as a newspaper photographer in New Mexico, moving to New York four years later to begin a career as a freelance magazine photographer. In 1984, he was hired as a contract photographer by Time magazine, where he has worked ever since.
A seven-time winner of the Magazine Photographer of the Year award (awarded by multiple organizations), Mr. Nachtwey is the recipient of numerous other honors, as well. His photographs conveyed the human drama of the IRA hunger strike in Northern Ireland in 1981 and have since chronicled in poignant fashion conflicts and social issues in El Salvador, Nicaragua, the West Bank and Gaza, Afghanistan and the Gulf War. On September 11, 2001, he encountered destruction and chaos in his own backyard, emerging from a collapsed building to capture the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan.
Mr. Nachtwey has published three books of his photographs, including Inferno, which depicts the famine and scars of war in Romania, Sudan, Somalia, Bosnia and elsewhere. The late renowned photographer Richard Avedon called the book "the most painful and beautiful book in the history of photography."
For his part, Mr. Nachtwey is less interested in the composition of a photograph than in the effect it has on the viewer. "I want the first impact and, by far, the most powerful impact, to be about an emotional, intellectual and moral reaction to what is happening to these people," he told Salon magazine. Mr. Nachtwey was the subject of a documentary, War Photographer, which chronicled his travels for two years in the trenches of Indonesia, Kosovo and Palestine. The film captures the essence of Mr. Nachtwey as a solitary, devoted artist who approaches his work as a humanitarian.
Using his lens as a teacher to educate the world at large, James Nachtwey has widened our eyes, touched our hearts and stoked the empathy in our souls. As a photographer whose work has transcended journalism, he has brought the tragic consequences of human conflict into sharper focus for us in ways that will endure well beyond our lifetime.
Note: This profile is excerpted from the commemorative brochure published at the time of the awards' presentation.
UPDATES SINCE RECEIVING THE HEINZ AWARD
January 2015 - James Nachtwey to be honored with the 2015 lifetime achievement award from the American Society of Magazine Editors. - National Magazine Awards
February 2012 - James Nachtwey is honoured with the third Dresden International Peace Prize at the Semperoper in Dresden, Germany; and it was noted that he "is one of those who, without consideration of the danger to him- or herself, bring such pictures to us, pictures which we can never forget. And he does this as a moralist, as one who doesn't merely hope, but rather believes that his pictures can change the way we think." - Semperoper Dresden
Speech11/14/2006 - Acceptance Speech
It is a great honor and pleasure to be here tonight. There are many, many people to thank who have helped me along the way but I especially want to mention Michele Stevenson and Maryanne Golon who have championed my work for so many years and Michael Weiskopf whose act of courage and sacrifice saved my life and the lives of others.
I want to express my heartfelt gratitude and respect to Mrs. Heinz, to everyone at the Heinz Family Foundation for your generosity, your vitality, for your courage and vision in breaking down barriers. For me the most essential questions about art don't so much concern concepts and formalities as they do the ability to make a genuine human connection and to translate that connection to a mass audience. An informed and educated public is necessary for a democracy to function properly. And I want to take this opportunity to recognize my colleagues who put their lives on the line and in many cases have lost their lives because they believed that our opinion has value and can actually make a difference. Something which I hope we will never take for granted.
Thank you very much.