Somalia by James Nachtway, 1992

James Nachtwey is perhaps the greatest war photographer alive. Adapting Raleigh’s famous judgment on Henry VIII, one might even say that “if all the patterns and pictures of war photographers were lost to the world, they might be painted to the life from James Nachtway.” He has covered conflicts and major social issues in more than 30 countries.

In 1992, he was in Somalia, covering the famine there. Impact of a severe drought was worsened by a war in southern Somalia, devestating in the fertile inter-riverine breadbasket between the Jubba and Shebelle rivers. Over 200,000 people died. The previous year, various clans had overthrew President Siad Barre who led Somalia for 21 years, plunging the country into a state of lawlessness and chaos. People were starving and so malnourished that they could not even get to the food aid stations on their own — that was the moment Nachtwey captured here.

Nachtwey was in Somalia on his own initiative, unhappy with the limited coverage the famine was getting in the international press. His photos were published as part of a cover feature in the New York Times Magazine (December 6, 1992). The outpouring of support that followed led to the Red Cross leading its largest operation since World War II. One and a half million people were saved and the Red Cross later noted that Nachtwey’s pictures made the difference.

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