James Nachtwey takes pictures of war and disaster as a moral imperative. At the expense of personal and domestic comfort, he spends his days bearing witness to the troubles of humankind (frequently doing so on contract for TIME). He is famously ascetic, capable of concluding a day in the killing fields not with a stiff drink but with a glass of water and departure for bed in a mood of reflective silence. And he has never really been animated by the ephemera of making a living, acquiring renown or even photography itself. We live in a visual culture of disposability and distraction; Nachtwey is driven by an overwhelming need to document "events that should not be forgotten." His best pictures betray a seraphic compassion for those in suffering.
Be it in Kosovo, Rwanda or Bosnia, somehow Nachtwey is able to get closer than other photographers to the sick and the dying and it is this that promises to make his new exhibition in Paris a deeply affecting experience. Struggle for Life, running from Feb. 10 to March 17 at Le Laboratoire, tel: (33-1) 7809 4950, features images that depict the dreadful toll taken by tuberculosis, malaria and aids on people in Cambodia, Thailand, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Many of the pictures have been produced in collaboration with researchers working in the forefront of public health, and many are images you will wish you had never seen. Nachtwey almost certainly feels the same way about them. "Every minute I was there, I wanted to flee," he once said after an assignment. "I did not want to see this. Would I cut and run, or would I deal with the responsibility of being there with a camera?"
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