For the photo critique, I chose James Nachtwey’s photo essay of the Syrian refugees entering the EU done for Time magazine. I reviewed Nachtwey’s online portfolio for the photojounralism course last spring, and was sufficiently compelled by his work that when I saw he’d done an assignment on the refugee crisis, I clicked immediately.
I will confess up front that I’m partial to black and white photography. I find I’m far more visually interested in shape and texture than in color. As such, Nachtwey’s photos are a natural draw for me. Beyond that, though, I’m affected by his intense focus on humanity. The photo essay for Time is comprised of 29 images, and only two are detail shots without people.
In this essay, he leads with the image of a man standing on the bow of a beached boat, waving his life jacket high above his head to signal another incoming boat. This image leads immediately into a shot of people crowded into a rubber boat, clearly celebrating their safe arrival. The selection of these two images feels to me like an emphasis on the isolation these people feel leaving their homes, even in the middle of cramped conditions, but also the joint humanity. So many of the images show refugees aiding one another and families clinging together.
The fifth image, of two women helping an older woman navigate the rocks and boulders on the beach in Lesbos illustrates this, and it’s followed by another photo of a lone figure, another woman, sitting next to a raft, ostensibly catching her breath. It’s oddly comforting to see so many women represented in these photos, given that I so frequently see images of male refugees, or at least families with men included. The tenth image, of a woman getting off a raft with her leather handbag in one hand and a garbage bag full of her belongings in the other, is particularly compelling for its familiarity. I bring a large handbag to the movies to sneak food in, she’s bringing hers across thousands of miles to escape terror and persecution.
The later images of migrants traversing vast empty fields continues the journey in a highly effective manner. For me, seeing the 19th image of a man carrying his son while dragging a Bauer bag behind him, something I’ve seen a hundred times watching the Avalanche pre-game but always carried by wealthy athletes in tailored suits, was . The sequence at the rail station, with people hanging out of or climbing onto trains and guards shouting at them draws a direct parallel with the anti-refugee narrative in the United States. Every time I hear any pundits or presidential candidates arguing against allowign Syrian refugees, all I can see is photo 25, with the guard screaming so loud in the middle of a crowd of migrants you can see the veins bulding on his forehead.
I can’t honestly come up with much in the way of criticism, here. I’m already a fan of Nachtwey’s work, and I’m nowhere near a point professionally where I can even begin to point out mistakes. It’s a very “I’m not worthy” moment. What I can say is that Nachtwey’s ability to elicit empathy and humanity without resorting to sensationalism is moving. His use of black and white photography muffles the distraction of the larger world and forces you to focus on the faces and subtle expressions of the people he’s photographing.
The Student Press Law Center does a lot with a little
September 21, 2015
Art meets STEM at the TinkerMill
August 31, 2015
What the Frac - Chelsea Thompson of NOAA talks air quality and fracking emissions