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Friday, 18 January 2008

James Nachtwey - Indonesia

This image by James Nachtwey is from Jakarta, 1998, and sums up the end of the Suharto regime and the immediate post-Suharto years.

The images is part of a series that is truly shocking and one of the great photojournalistic series - right up there with Larry Burrows One Ride with Yankee Papa 13 story.

It also encapsulates the backdrop of politics that defines Indonesia in the late 1990s, incorporating elements of sectarianism, military machination, political patronage, regional warfare, manipulation of information and out and out gangsterism. The story goes something like this - the victim was a Christian member of a paramilitary extortion group with links to Suharto's ( recently-deposed as president) daughter. His group had desecrated a local mosque, been chased by local Muslims and found sanctuary in a small army barracks. He got killed after the army kicked him and his friends out - his friends were sent back to where they came from - a place called Ambon - where a brutal and distant little Christian-Muslim war was brewing, a war that ultimately cost perhaps 10,000 lives and saw different branches of the military supporting and helping out different sides in the conflict.

And that is all there behind the picture - though it's not something you would ever find out from the captions that have accompanied the published image, or the stories that it has been used to illustrate. Which is a pity.


Daniel Shea said...

i have mixed feelings about his work, but there's undoubtedly an important "document" factor, despite being a relatively naive way of looking at photography.

i enjoy the blog, keep it up! i linked you on my own: dsheaphoto.net/blog.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Dan - I think sometimes he really nails it (I'm thinking of some of the work in Inferno) in a way few other people can, and maybe that's connected to his particular way of being and photographing.

squirrelgirl said...

Yeah, I have mixed feelings about his work as well. It's so powerful, but can be very "in your face" at times.

I did enjoy this interview of him though. NEED magazine spoke with him and he seems like an amazing guy. Especially the work he's done with XDRTB.

Here's the link: http://needmagazine.com/video/NEED06_Dialogue_Video.html


Unknown said...

Reportage is supposed to be in your face, life is not a sugar coated bicycle ride through fairyland. James Nachtweys work is a testament to the times we live in and his powerful pictures, although grim, are also full of hope and confidence in mans ability to correct our wrongs.

colin pantall said...

Thanks Jack

Mmm - Nachtwey's old black and white work is great, not sure it's full of hope or if it needs to be or even why one would think it is.

The comments regarding this picture are with respect to the under-reporting of the story behind the picture and the wilfully misleading captioning.

Thanks Lauren - perhaps that's the full of hope work Jack mentions.