Photographer James Nachtwey’s archive counts close to 330,000 photographic negatives, 170,000 digital image files, 7,200 exhibition-quality prints, 2,000 large-format works, 25,500 small-scale prints and 12,500 contact sheets. The collection spans more than 35 years of work and provides a record of some of the world’s most heart-shattering events – from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda to the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
Now, the extensive historical record has found a new home at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College. “The goal is to create a resource for teaching that will be relevant to a broad range of subjects and can be applied across a wide variety of academic disciplines,” says Nachtwey, a TIME contract photographer since 1984. “The archive can provide extensive visual documentation useful to historians and to scholars in many other fields.”
Nachtwey will work with the museum to catalog and enrich the archive with new publications and educational resources. He will also create an oral history of his life-long work. “I will be deeply involved in shaping the archive – editing and sequencing a multitude of different bodies of work which span the past 35 years and will continue to expand as I continue to document contemporary events,” Nachtwey tells TIME. “To amplify the images, I will also be developing text that will tell the stories of the people and the situations I encountered at ground level at the sharp end of history.”
For the Hood Museum of Art, the acquisition represents another opportunity to grow its profile and serve the larger institution of which it is a part. “As an art museum, we’re trying to expand and support the work of the entire college,” says John Stomberg, the museum’s director. “With James Nachtwey’s photographs, covering all of the major world events of the past 30-plus years, we’re able to offer a greatly expanded visual archive to the college. Whether you’re studying English Literature or Political History, you’ll be able to find something in James Nachtwey’s photographs to work with. Nachtwey has always been a very special photographer. He’s been able to tell heartrending stories. Sometimes they are huge, global stories rendered very personal through the eyes of an individual.”
“My viewpoint of history is from the perspective of the people who are living through it, who are suffering the consequences,” adds Nachtwey. “In the short term, visual documentation becomes an essential element in the process of change. In the longer term, it becomes a way in which we remember history. By studying it, hopefully we can learn.”
The museum expects to be able to showcase some of Nachtwey’s work in the next two years. It will also assist the photographer on at least one publication in the next five years, says Stomberg.
“To have experienced history so closely, and to have created this extensive archive of images, has been my life,” Nachtwey says. “To now be able to pass along to students some of those experiences and what might be learned from them, to help a new generation of young people to see and to question, to put some lift under their wings as they fly out of the nest, is a gift.”
Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent
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