Susan Sontag & James Nachtwey Walk Into A Bar
James: Good afternoon Susan.
Susan: James, how have you been?
James: Fine, thanks. I just came back from a reporting trip to Sudan. It’s amazing what is happening there. Amazing, but tragic. Would you like to see some photographs?
James: I took this to represent the famine as a whole. I’m hoping people will see that it also captures hope because this man has summoned up all the strength he has left just to crawl.
Susan: I’m not so sure people are going to look at this long enough to see that James.
James: Excuse me?
Susan: I’m not saying it’s a bad photo, it’s an incredible one, but its not beautiful enough for people to want to see it. People need beauty in photos to want to look at them.
James: I mean it’s not a field of flowers but its still beautiful and real. People will understand that it is something they need to pay attention to in order for justice to happen.
Susan: Justice? Because of a photograph? I’m not so sure about that.
James: Once people see this photo it’s only a matter of time before everyone realizes that the government has not been telling us everything we need to know about it!
Susan: Listen, I’m not saying it isn’t a great cause to fight for, I just don’t think people are at a place where they will take action after one photo. Think about the amount of pictures we come across everyday of our lives.
James: This is not the same as all of those other photos.
James: I’m making it my mission to bring humanity into each photo for each cause so people here in America, where there is no famine or war happening on our soil, can see what is happening around the world to people who are not as lucky.
Susan: You wouldn’t consider that exploitation?
James: Absolutely not. I’m taking pictures of them for the purpose of telling their story and bringing attention to their individual cause. I’m not doing it for my own personal benefit. I want these people’s faces to be stuck in the heads of people around the world to make them aware. Let me show you another picture from a trip I took a few years ago from Romania inside an orphanage.
James: In Romania, there was a limit set on the amount of children allowed per household so I went to the orphanage where a horror scene of inhumane conditions were waiting for me. This little boy represents that moment for me and other people who have come across it.
Susan: Don’t you worry about the parents of this child seeing this and being scarred by it?
James: Scarred by this?
Susan: Your taking the face of this child whom the family could have kept under different circumstances and making it a symbol for the injustice of Romania and the child reduction law. Don’t you think they might say you’re doing more harm then good?
James: Should they see it, they should understand that I am trying to get justice for their child through photojournalism. I’m giving him the voice he and the family would not have otherwise.
Susan: That’s a very good point; I just wanted to see if you had thought about a less optimistic approach to photojournalism as a whole. I just think that this debate has been going on for decades now and I’m not so sure it will ever come to a conclusion.
James: Well, I cannot speak for any other photographer then myself, but I personally am only after photographing for justice. Without the faces or presence of people within pictures, it could make them blend in with all others taken by other people, that is why I am making mine stand out. I want them to impact people like never before.
Susan: What about the idea that if too many photos are bombarding the eyes of people across the world, they will be less impactful? Have you considered this at all?
James: I have thought about it, it’s a hard thing to think about because as a photographer you want to show as many images about the tragedies as possible to get a message across, but whether people pay attention or not is out of my control. I can only hope that they will care enough to take a second look.
Susan: Hard to think that just because we’re shown a horrible image multiple times means it may lose its real impact isn’t it? Just awful. Well, it was great to see you James, I hope to run into you again in the future.
James: Great seeing you too Susan, take care.