new-york

James Nachtwey

International Center of Photography Museum (ICP)

THE FIRST IMAGE ENCOUNTERED in this midcareer retrospective—a color photograph taken in San Miguel Province, El Salvador, in 1984—goes straight to the aesthetic and ethical core of James Nachtwey's documentary work. In the foreground, a middle-aged man bends forward on his knees to cradle a wounded girl, perhaps seven or eight years old, in his arms. The blood on her legs and abdomen has stained the man's shirt. Behind and above them is a group of five soldiers in green fatigues. One lifts a fallen comrade onto the shoulders of another, thrusting the wounded man's clenched fist skyward to cut the exact center line of the image. Just to the right of this axis, another soldier propped against his rucksack turns to look directly into the camera. The pyramidal composition is forceful but not overpowering: The formal restraint draws us into the image rather than through it. The written

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