James Nachtwey, one of the world’s most renowned photojournalists, and widely regarded as the defining visual war reporter of his time, has chosen Thailand for his first retrospective exhibition in the Asia-Pacific region.
Called ‘James Nachtwey: Memoria’, this landmark exhibition features many of Nachtwey’s most prominent bodies of work with 126 images of global wars and natural disasters taken over the past 42 years. The event is accompanied by a film directed by Thomas Nordanstad.
Organised by the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand in cooperation with the Photographic Arts Foundation and the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, with the support of the Embassy of the United States of America in Thailand, ‘Memoria’ will run daily (except Mondays) from 5 September – 26 November 2023, 10.00 -20.00 on the 7th floor of Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre. Entry is free.
The display includes the world premiere of Nachtwey’s photographs depicting the war in Ukraine. Other locations include West Bank, Uganda, El Salvador, Haiti, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Chechnya, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Sudan, Somalia, Rwanda, the border between Rwanda and Tanzania, Zaire, Afghanistan, US, Greece, Croatia, Nepal, Iraq, Pakistan, Romania, Indonesia, Cambodia, Zimbabwe, Vietnam, South Africa, and Poland.
James Nachtwey was born in the state of New York and graduated from Dartmouth College, where he studied art history and political science. Images of the Vietnam War and the American Civil Rights Movement directly influenced his decision to become a photographer.
He began his career as a newspaper photographer in 1976 and became a freelance photographer in 1980. Since then, he has worked worldwide, committed to documenting wars and critical social issues.
Nachtwey has been a contract photographer with TIME Magazine since 1984. He was a member of Magnum between 1986 and 2000 and was one of the founders of the photo agency VII, where he was a member from 2001 to 2008. Since then, he has operated as an independent photojournalist.
Although Nachtwey’s images focus on injustice and violence, notably the harrowing effects of wars and disasters, they invariably evoke a sense of compassion and sympathy. As a witness to major historical events, he brilliantly captures intimate moments of humanity. His photographs may be composed in a fraction of a second, yet they appear to have a formal completeness.
It is often said that James’ photographs have inspired world leaders to seek peace for all mankind.
The idea of showcasing Nachtwey’s work in Thailand was first proposed in 2018 when Nachtwey attended the exhibition ‘Sebastiao Salgado: The World Through His Eyes’ organized by the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand (RPST).
Discussions arose thereafter on the possibility of Nachtwey holding his first ever exhibition in the Asia-Pacific region.
The RPST spent the next five years preparing for this exhibition to ensure that ‘Memoria’ would allow the public to view the true horrors of war and violence, and also to see the devastating damage caused by natural disasters.
The opening ceremony of ‘Memoria’ will be honored by Gwendolyn Cardno, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Tul Hirunyalawan, President of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand (RPST), Adulaya Hoontrakul, Director of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC).
Tul Hiranyalawan, a renowned photographer in his own right, said of Nachtwey: “He is not just a war photographer – his photographs make us see the value and importance of being alive.”
“Every photograph has been carefully selected not only to reflect the skills of the photographer, but also how well each image explains the context of what we see.”
“None of us will ever know whether the people we see in James’ photographs are still alive. Nor will we know what happened to them. But I believe that these images make all of us realize that we should love each other, that wars should not happen, and that we should know how special being alive truly really means.”
Adulaya Hoontrakul of BACC said that this exhibition is one of the Centre’s most important events this year. “The BACC frequently collaborates with the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand, so it is a great pleasure for us to help organize an exhibition for such an important photographer.
“James Nachtwey is a global figure renowned for his extraordinary courage and dedication in venturing into dangerous and challenging places during critical times to capture vital images to convey the truth to the world.”
“Even though he was injured many times in the course of his work, Nachtwey continues to courageously take his cameras to war zones and areas of conflict.”
“He has dedicated his life to tell other people’s stories. We see contrasting images of heartbreaking beauty and untold cruelties of war, the darkest moments of humanity, and situations of great danger. He reveals how hatred can lead to people willingly destroying each other in the most terrible manner. But he also records touching moments of bravery and quiet compassion.”
The short film by Thomas Nordanstad that accompanies this exhibition tells the story of Nachtwey’s life and work.
Nordanstad once said that Nachtwey’s lenses have the ability to see the most profound aspects of humanity. “While images reveal the horror, pain, and sorrow of humanity, they are balanced by the fragility of hope for those still able to fight, to survive, to selflessly support and offer aid to others, and to commit acts of great compassion.
Tul Hirunyalawan says that this international exhibition is one of the many events in the RPST Master Series where works of world-famous photographers have been displayed in Thailand for the viewing enjoyment of visitors from across the Asia-Pacific region.
Artists whose exhibitions have been held in Bangkok include Michael Kenna, the legendary contemporary fine arts photographer; Kenro Izu best known for his still life photographs; award-winning German photographer Tom Jacobi, documentary photographer Sebastiao Salgado; and globally acclaimed explorer and photographer Sebastian Copeland.
Nachtwey’s photographs are included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Pompidou Center and the Getty Museum among other venues. He has had numerous solo exhibitions worldwide.
He has received honorary doctorate degrees from Dartmouth College, Academy of Art University, Massachusetts College of Art and St. Michael’s College and an honorary professorship from Shandong University.
The exhibition James Nachtwey: Memoria focusing on images of war and natural disasters runs from 5 September – 26 November 2023 from 10:00 – 20:00 daily (except Mondays) on the 7th floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Free entry. For more details, visit: http://www.rpst.or.th/