I read fleetingly on twitter yesterday that James Nachtwey has left VII Photo Agency of which he was one of the founding members. Therefore, I went to the VII Photo website and found Nachtwey's name missing from the list of photographers. A report in the British Journal of Photography confirmed that the photojournalist has indeed quit the agency. There was, however, no announcement on the VII website.
I have been trying to keep pace with VII team's work over the years. What I find interesting is that they are constantly at the edge of conflict, bringing viewers face-to-face with the socio-economic and political realities across the globe. I have no idea how much role Nachtwey really played in the creative part of VII. I always believed that it was he who started the agency, but Wikipedia says that Gary Knight and John Stanmeyer first thought of setting up the agency and others like Alexandra Boulat, Ron Haviv, Nachtwey joined in.
Four days after VII was formally set up and announced, Nachtwey shot those stunning photographs of the 9/11 collapse which were first published by Time magazine. VII never looked back after this success, and I observed with awe how they developed the agency over last 10 years not just into a creative unit doing important work in visual story telling, but the way they developed and added new sections to the entity.
One day in 2004, when I was working with the Indian Express, I found a white man chatting with our photo chief Neeraj Priyadarshi in the photo dept. My friend A Srinivas who was outside the cabin whispered J-a-m-e-s-N-a-c-h-t-w-e-y, and I really thought he was joking. What would Nachtwey be doing in the Express photo dept? Seconds later, I was speechless as Nachtwey turned and came out. I was tongue tied as I shook hands with him. He was dressed in a cool spotless white shirt and blue denims, and was so simple and modest. It was Srinivas' idea to present him an Indian Express annual photo book that the group brought out in 2000 or so, and take his autograph on another copy of the book. Nachtwey signed it, but also insisted that all of us sign his copy of the book. Though I don't think he enjoyed the "celebrity" status being bestowed upon him, he happily posed for a photograph with all of us. I chased him the next whole day for an interview, but he persistently refused. He was here to shoot photos for a magazine assignment on great Indian railway, and wanted to shoot the Mumbai trains.
Nachtwey is apparently setting up his own studio, according to the newsreport. Whatever he will do next, I am sure he will bring in an element of the extraordinary. Much like his pictures.