Sontag and Nachtwey Walk into a Bar…
James: Good afternoon Susan.
Susan: James, how have you been?
James: Fine, thank you. I just came back from a reporting trip to Paris. I covered the terrorist attacks. It’s amazing what is happening there. Amazing, but tragic. Do you want to see some photographs?
Susan: Oh absolutely James. You know I’d never turn down an opportunity to view some of your work. Let me see.
James: Well this set of photographs was taken just days after the attacks on November 13th.
Susan: It is really terrible what happened there.
James: I know. So many innocent lives lost. It really shows what horrible things can happen when misplaced anger and religious fanaticism cross paths.
Susan: So the photos James, the photos.
James: Ah yes, the photos.
This first one is was taken at the base of the Eiffel Tower.
Aside from the French flag, the Eiffel Tower is probably the most internationally recognized French symbol. When I arrived the base of the tower was heavily guarded.
After being met with initial resistance from the guards, I presented my press credentials and was allowed to briefly photograph the structure. I tried to capture the scene from that day, and was sure to include the enormous tower in the background.
Susan: Such an ominous image. Why did you stress the inclusion of the tower?
James: Because in the wake of a terrorist attack on French citizens, the French government felt it was necessary to protect the thousand-foot rout iron structure, so I felt it was my duty to photograph it.
Susan: Interesting. I find it uncomfortable to see armed guards defending a monument that people from around the globe come to visit with friends and loved ones on a daily basis.
James: I know. Its something that I had trouble with myself. At a sight that brings such joy, to see the those men in front of it was sad.
Susan: What else do you have James?
James: This next one was taken where citizens had gathered at an impromptu memorial sight. I saw dozens of sights like this all over the city.
Susan: It’s a shame it takes an attack like this to bring people together. Do you ever find yourself troubled photographing people in their time of despair? This group of people is clearly grieving the loss of loved ones. Don’t you think at a time like this it would be better to leave them alone?
James: We have all experiences loss. When I am on location after a tragedy I am not there looking for a headline or the next cover of TIME. Im not looking to take advantage of people at a time of weakness. I am looking to photographically document what is going on in the city.
Susan: You’re a good man James. I am not trying to insinuate otherwise. Though the image itself is beautifully constructed with the reflection of the candle glow illuminating the posters of the fallen, it just seems a bit intrusive to impose on people during a time like this.
James: I see where you’re coming from. Before taking out my camera as a I always do I politely asked the mourners first for their permission and they agree with no problem. I think in a way they wanted me to snap some pictures, so that others could see the destruction that was caused by these men.
Susan it is my hope that once developed, someone, somewhere looks at one of the photos I have taken and it makes a difference to them. It gives them a visual of what happen in Paris for example, and strikes a cord within them spurning action in the interest of good.
I am simply trying to let the viewer of my work become me momentarily. See the same things that I saw with my own eyes.
Susan: You are a rare breed James. Many photographers jump at the opportunity to photograph people in a time of despair like this. They know that shock sells. Its good to see that there are people like you that care to tell the tell a story by taking a humanistic caring approach. Do you have any more photos?
James: These last two images I feel sum up the overall feeling of the French people in Paris. It didn’t matter what faith you chose to worship, whether you were black, white, red, brown or in between, what mattered after the attack was that you were French. The people of Paris came together in a time of despair and set aside all the things that made them different and united around the thing that they shared.
Susan: I really like the “not afraid” photograph. It sends a profound message with just two words. A few individuals holding up a signs somehow spoke for the entire crowd.
James: That’s what I wanted to get across. The French people were not going to live in fear and allow the terrorists to dictate their lives.
Susan: Because that is what they wanted.
James: Exactly. I saw thousands of people in the streets. The same streets that were overwhelmed in panic just days earlier.
Susan: It really speaks to the resilience we have as people. I can only hope that it effects people in a way to want to ensure that something like this never happens again.
James: I’d like to live in a world where I didn’t have to photograph tragedy. I’d happily never photograph again if the world were like that.
Susan: Some day James. Some day there will be peace in this world of ours.
James: Speaking of peace…