February 12, 2015 6:03 AM EST

In this space I often highlight our best photojournalism, and so it was with particular pride that we gathered on Feb. 2 to watch James Nachtwey, a TIME contract photographer for 30 years, accept the industry’s highest individual honor at the National Magazine Awards. In her tribute to Jim, TIME’s director of photography, Kira Pollack, surveyed his great body of work, covering events in places from Sudan to Rwanda to Gaza, and observed that “Jim’s pictures do more than raise awareness. They bring about change. A senior member of the International Committee of the Red Cross told him once that his shocking pictures of famine in Somalia published in the New York Times Magazine in 1992 mobilized the largest relief effort since World War II and saved 1.5 million lives.”

To the assembled editors and publishers, Jim gave his testimony: “We navigate dangers, endure hardships and get our hearts broken by what we witness, over and over again, because we believe that people’s opinions matter, that our society cannot function properly without the information we provide and without the stories we tell,” he said. “Our work is aimed at our readers’ best instincts–generosity, compassion, a sense of right and wrong, a sense of identification with others on a human level, across cultures, beyond the borders of nationality, and perhaps most importantly, the refusal to accept the unacceptable.”

In this tradition, TIME won the feature photography award that night for Jerome Sessini’s pictures published last summer of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over eastern Ukraine. Jerome was among the first journalists on the scene, and his images captured the awful, intimate cost of a conflict that has redrawn the map of Europe. In this double issue, he takes us back to Ukraine, to travel underground with the miners who are caught up in the fight that is tearing their country into pieces.

Nancy Gibbs, EDITOR

LIGHTBOX

“The scary part was to open the door and slide out of the helicopter at 9,000 feet,” recalls photographer and filmmaker Vincent Laforet on taking a stunning series of Las Vegas aerial shots (including the one above). He’s pulled off similar feats before–shooting Manhattan from the air in November–but this was the first time Laforet says he experienced hypoxia, or shortness of breath, because of a lack of oxygen. Not that he minded once he saw the photos. “It’s a complete spot of energy that is so artificial,” he says. “It’s just so Vegas.” For more from Laforet’s series, visit lightbox.time.com.

TIME FOR FAMILY

About 40% of adoptive parents are raising kids of a different race. Their challenges are the subject of a feature on our new TIME for Family site, where parents can find a range of deeply reported, news-driven stories, on topics from managing kids’ screen time to ADHD. You can subscribe, and sign up for our free weekly newsletter–a guide to the best of family content from other media–at time.com/parents.

BONUS TIME

Subscribe to The Brief for free and get a daily email with the 12 stories you need to know to start your morning. For more, visit time.com/email.

This appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of TIME.

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