Foreign Tongue Exhibit
2009 - Year of Transition

Our Winter


Kenneth Jarecke/Contact Press Images

Jim Nachtwey, a PFJ of the first order, is taking an undeserved beating over an offer for an unpaid internship.

The controversy started here, on a blog called Jamie's List.

Personally, I think interns should be paid, for a couple of reasons.

One, the overhead saved on having unpaid interns is passed along to the photographer's clients and serves to lower what customers expect to pay for photography. To put it another way, if I have to hire someone to help me print, I'm going to have to raise the price of each print to pay for that expense. If I have an unpaid intern, I don't raise my prices and the customer gets a discount on the true cost of that image.

Two, people that get paid usually work better and stay around longer than unpaid interns. In the long run, it's probably cheaper to just pay somebody in the first place.

Three, it's the right thing to do.

However, people are free to make their own decisions. Would you rather have a government agency tell Jim and his potential intern what kind of a relationship they could agree to?

Unlike many, I'd have no problem saying any of this to Jim in person.

That should be the end of the story, but no, the interesting part is how the comments aimed towards Jim turned real nasty, real quick.

The only way I can explain it is, well sure there's probably some jealousy factored in, but it has to be a manifestation of the overall desperation that has the photography world in a death grip.

I mean, there are people out there that are displaying a real level of contempt for both Jim and his work, which is not only uncool, but must point to something else. Something a whole lot deeper than just not liking a certain photographer.

Jim has, for the permanent record, been an extremely positive influence in both my life and my work. His work has forced me, and every other photographer working today to produce better images, not just images of conflict, but in all branches of the photojournalism tree. Furthermore, You can not work with a camera today (regardless of your field) without somehow being influenced by Jim Nachtwey.

Let me say that again,  Jim's influence has made you, and any working photographer you admire, better.

There are a few misconceptions floating around this controversy.

Time Magazine did not create Jim Nachtwey. You can argue that Jim had a couple of editors that helped him along, but who doesn't? If anything, Jim's work has given Time a level of gravitas and credibility that it doesn't deserve.

Originally Jim either had only one, or no images (I don't remember which) in the now famous, black-bordered, post 9-11 issue of Time. The entire issue was rebuilt around Jim's images on the insistence of one editor. Today, those images are what everyone remembers. That's just one example, there are others. Jim's work (and that of other great photographers, great editors, and maybe a writer or two) is what allows Time to enjoy a certain level of respect.

Having a contract with a big magazine is not what makes a photographer great. Magazines (at one point, long ago) sought out great talent and put them under contract to ensure that they would have great work to publish. The fact that this no longer happens is ( I think) a clue to why this anger has been directed towards Jim.

By the way, when was the last time you saw a picture of Natchwey's in Time?

If quality doesn't matter (and the magazines have decided that it doesn't) then what hope do any of us have? Isn't that what we're really asking here? Jim's not the problem. Yes, the ad was poorly worded, and yes interns should be paid, but do you really think Jim had much to do with placing that ad?

It was a small mistake. Let it drop.

Personally, I don't think Jim should have tried to rebrand himself as an "anti-war" photographer. That didn't make sense to me, but still he's earned a pass.

It doesn't pay much, but we do offer an internship out here in the wilds of Montana. It's cold, zero degrees right now, and along with some basic Photoshop and filing skills, you need to have some advanced fencing skills (the kind that uses barb-wire, not those sissy swords). Being comfortable in Carhartts is a must.

We also serve lunch. Today we had pie... cherry, slightly over-sharpened.

Kenneth Jarecke/Contact Press Images



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Brian Frank

"Would you rather have a government agency tell Jim and his potential intern what kind of a relationship they could agree to?"

The Department of Justice already has rules regarding this, and it appears to an outsider that Mr. Nachtwey may not be following them.

Brian Smith

You left out the part in your pitch about how, like all great photojournalists, you only eat your pie off the finest china...


I'd think cherry pie over-sharpened is better than cherry pie over-saturated, though I've not tasted either.

Aren't we past being shocked when people are mean to each other on the web?

Dan Milnor

I still remember finding "Deeds of War" in the Coop bookstore in Austin after I had just begun my PJ studies. I remember the lump in my throat, the pounding of my heart, realizing where the bar was set.
I agree, interns should be paid. I've always felt this way. I know very well paid photogs who are still hiring unpaid interns, then complaining about industry rates. It doesn't jive.
I think Nachtwey is a prime target for several reason, one of which is the success he has achieved. I think people have their own ideas about what a guy like JM is supposed to look like, act like, and what he is supposed to say about life, his work, etc. I don't think he fits the mold and it drives some people crazy.
I was not surprised by people bagging on him not paying an intern, but I was surprised, like you, at how crazy mean the comments got.
Ken you rock my man.
PS: I've started growing my own KJ beard in appreciation of your life, blog and pictures.

El Reichman

This "controversy," amazes me. In my 32 years of shooting, the only internships in which I was paid were at newspapers and those were only summer internships. My winter break internships were always uncompensated, except for mileage. Since I began freelancing 23 years ago, I've known only a handful of freelance photographers who pay their interns. More power to those that can do so, especially in these tight times. I've never had a single intern, but my assistants have always been well paid for their efforts. Surely, there must be more important issue's for bloggers to concern themselves with.

Tom Leininger

I strung and electric fence a long time ago and I like wearing Carhartt and I like pie. The perfect internship, just 20 years too late.

Eric Labastida

I had a very similar experience to above poster and good ol buddy of mine, Dan Milnor. When I first looked at a copy of Deeds Of War way back in 1990, I was blown away. The compositions were so clean, crisp and POWERFUL, that after seeing that masterpiece, I wanted to make better pictures.
That being said, to the inflammatory comments made to Mr. Nachtwey. I believe the only compensation interns should receive is the experience of having the awesome chance of being in the presence of a grand master like James Nachtwey. What a bunch of sniveling little whiny babies. If Jim wants to share his time with an intern, That intern should ask, how high do you want me to jump, Mr. Nachtwey?
An artist like James Nachtwey comes only but once only in a lifetime. So, suck it up prospective interns.

Rock on Jim!
Rock on Ken!

Giovanni DB

I was an Intern at Jim's studio from end 2002 to march 2004. I was paid. Very well treated and learned a enormous amount of stuff.
I know Jim very well and also know that he is honest and for everything he does there is reasons and thought behind it. Did any one asked him if he has people payed in his studio? an payed intern also? It is amazing as nobody asked him why... that's not journalism to put an add up and spit on it. And then we ask why papers and media are going down the drain. Even for such simple stuff work is badly done.

The comments to this entry are closed.