Why photograph war? Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior, which has existed throughout human history by means of photography? The proportions of that notion seem ridiculously out of balance yet that very idea has motivated me. For me the strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke a sense of humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war, and if it is used well it can be a powerful ingredient in the antidote to war. In a way, if an individual assumes the risk of placing himself in the middle of a war in order to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening, he is trying to negotiate for peace. Perhaps that is the reason why those in charge of perpetuating a war do not like to have photographers around. In the field, where your experience is extremely immediate, what you see is not an image on a page in a magazine 10,000 miles away with an advertisement for Rolex watches on the next page. What you see is unmitigated pain, injustice, and misery. It’s occurred to me that if everyone could be there just once to see for themselves what white phosphorus does to the face of a child, or what unspeakable pain is caused by the impact of a single bullet, or how a jagged piece of shrapnel can rip someone’s leg off. If everyone could be there to see for themselves the fear and the grief just one time, then they would understand that nothing is worth letting things get to the point where that happens to even one person, let alone thousands. But everyone cannot be there, and that is why photographers go there. To show them, to reach out and grab them and make them stop what they are doing and pay attention to what is going on. To create pictures powerful enough to overcome the diluting effects of the mass media and shake people out of their indifference. To protest and by the strength of that protest, to make others protest.
James Natchwey, War Photographer