James Plumlee and I were worried that we hadn’t left Oklahoma City early enough to get good seats. As we opened the doors of Te Ata Memorial Auditorium on the USAO campus, we relaxed a bit. We were an hour early and were the first ones there. James Nachtwey, one of the greatest war and conflict photographers of all time, was speaking at USAO in Chickasha, Okla. Nate Billings had heard about the free event on NPR and we threw together a group of photographers including Sarah Phipps, Chris Landsberger, Nate, myself and former staff photographer James Plumlee to drive to Chickasha. We sat on the front row and talked while the entire auditorium filled up behind us. Nachtwey opened his speech by saying that this was his first time to visit Oklahoma.
If you’re reading Alternate Crop, you’re either related to a staff photographer at The Oklahoman or you have at least a passing interest in photography. Either way, you should be familiar with James Nachtwey’s work. There was a documentary about him called War Photographer. And he’s one of the founding members of VII Photo Agency. I’ve seen the movie, poured over his books and I keep the VII website bookmarked on my computers, but hearing the stories first hand and seeing the pictures on a big screen gave me plenty to think about. We hung around afterward, met Nachtwey and asked a couple of questions. I asked him if we could buy him dinner or coffee.
Every description I type and re-type about his presentation seems inadequate. Nachtwey’s photographs are heart-wrenching and inspiring. His stories from seeing war and famine around the world are chilling, but I think I liked his thoughts on journalism the best. He talked about journalists being involved in the community, locally or overseas, and about contributing to society by highlighting problems in our communities. I’m glad the five of us made the trip to USAO in Chickasha. He said, no, by the way, to dinner. I told him we’d do it the next time he came to Oklahoma.