Though he is probably the world's most honored recent war photographer, James Nachtwey calls himself an "antiwar photographer," as the preeminent critic Luc Sante notes in his excellent foreword to Inferno
, a landmark collection of 382 war-crime photos. Nachtwey has taken shrapnel and had his hair literally parted by a bullet, but he's never lost his compassionate outrage. The stunning images in this huge-format book--brutally abused Romanian orphans, Rwandan genocide victims, a rat-hunter family of Indian Untouchables barbecuing dinner, skeletal dehydration victims in Sudan, the miserable in Bosnia, Chechnya, Zaire, Somalia, and Kosovo--are excruciating to look at, yet impossible to tear your eyes away from. Nachtwey's art is meant to force us to face unbearable facts. Faces are the key: you can't gaze into the eyes of a Romanian toddler tied to a bed, or wired to a primitive "electromagnetic therapy" device, and not grasp the horror more fully than you would by watching a TV news item or reading a newspaper piece. (The book's text explains each photo's context.)
Inferno is also a masterpiece in strictly aesthetic terms. The power of Nachtwey's images transcends journalism. Bloody handprints on a living-room wall in Kosovo, the ghostly imprint of a Serb victim's vanished body on a floor, a Hutu with crazed eyes displaying the machete gashes he received for opposing the Tutsis' butchery, a howling orphan in a crib, one eye contracted in anger--these are compositions that depend, like Goya's, on the artist's skill as much as the subject's legitimate claim on our conscience.
Nachtwey's photographs make us capable of imagining that it could have happened to us. They are hard to forget, or forgive. --Tim Appelo
'Brilliant and often shocking images by the world's greatest photojournalist.' (Publishing News) 'Moving' (British Journal of Photography) 'One of the great contemporary photojournalists ... his first collection has been long-awaited ...' (The Times) 'Remarkable ... Inferno is the book's title, but even the sad words of Dante which preface the work ("Through me is the way to the sorrowful city / Through me is the way to join the lost people") are insufficient preparation for the full panoply of its horrors: images from Romania, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda, Chechnya, many familiar, yet here, collected en masse and carefully composed, playing out a chilly coda to the history of the last century ... If Inferno can be said to contain any optimism, it lies in its own coda of photographs taken in Kosovo. Not because they are not disturbing - they are - but because of the subsequent Nato intervention which Nachtwey sees as a "turning point" in the world's relationship with calamity.' (Peter Aspden, Financial Times) 'Magnum star James Nachtwey may well be the last of the great war photographers, a breed whose images of human suffering can change the world ... Nachtwey has just brought out a thematically and physically monumental new book of his work. It is called Inferno and the title is no exaggeration. .. Inferno works on a vast, heavy scale. It is a fitting antidote to illusions about what the last decade really meant.' (The Herald (Scotland)) 'It is a sad testament to Western news values that we are less at ease with photos of emaciated famine victims than picking over pictures of wealthy superstars whose bones similarly poke through flimsy clothing. It is easy to get sanctimonious when confronted with these pictures but without these terrible images to haunt us we leave history to the spin doctors and media agents who would sanitise our memories of war. As a witness to violence and death, Nachtwey's lens always sits with the victims - recording the carnage not from the eyes of the soldiers but on the ground with the ordinary people caught up in the terror.' (The Big Issue) '500 pages, 15 x 11in, 10lbs, fabulous paper and printing, cool, elegant design and 400 exquisite pictures of horror, suffering, misery and death from the last decade of the 20th century ... a vision of hell on earth ... Inferno is an extraordinary book ... Nachtwey is an image-maker of great talent and maturity.' (British Journal of Photography) 'Nachtwey himself is acutely conscious of the other role of the documentary photographer: that of bearing witness and furnishing evidence of man's inhumanity to man. Inferno has been produced with that thought in mind and is being sent out to world leaders and non-government organisations with the active intention that it be viewed as an archive of a decade of conflict. It is undoubtedly a work of art, but the true, unashamed, function of art has always been to transmit a message ... With Inferno ... James Nachtwey seems to have moved forward in his control of composition and image making ... Death rituals from conflicts and famine across the world, for example, are used to bind together the plight of those who will neither meet nor hear of each other's existence. Emphasis remains on the fact that the last decade of the 20th century was a far from admirable or proud one in the history of humanity ... It would be utterly wrong to regard Inferno as just another photography book: in its ambition and achievement it is undoubtedly more than that.' (Royal Society of Photographers Journal) 'These pictures, unrelenting in the exposure of inhumanity, do not spare us and are not meant to, yet Nachtwey's belief in their necessity and power puts them among the most hopeful pictures produced in the century.' (Vicki Goldberg, American Photo) 'One of the 30 most captivating and influential photography books from the last five years.' (Photo District News)