I do. When I was 17, I wanted to be a war photographer.
I had spent the previous several years studying the histories of Russia, China, and Rome. War is, of course, a central theme of all of those histories. Fittingly, The World’s Most Dangerous Places was my favorite book at the time. War both terrified and fascinated (though mainly terrified) me.
One day when browsing through the local pirated DVD store near my apartment in Beijing, I ran across a documentary called War Photographer. It’s about James Nachtwey, who I guess is the most famous war photographer in the world. It’s about his story, his photos, and the stories behind his photos.
Before watching that film, I’m not even sure I knew that war photography was a thing; the title of the film just intrigued me. I knew there were wars, and I knew there were photographers, and I knew that people took pictures of things in war, but I didn’t know there were dedicated war photographers.
I did know that war is a terrible thing. When I was a little kid, I remember wondering whether men or women had it worse in life. Yes, women had to give birth—and that sucked, I was sure—but men had to go to war. War sucked more. Of that, I was equally sure.
When I first heard around that same time that people made money blogging, I instantly knew what my moneymaker blog would be, or maybe what blog I would start once I already had a moneymaking blog. I would travel the world, take photos of the horrible things going on in it, and post them to my blog. I would only post them on my blog, and not publish them in books or magazines. People wouldn’t have to pay anything to see them.
It would be listed in Time Magazine’s list of top blogs of the year. I would be interviewed on CNN and linked to from Yahoo. People wouldn’t know what they were walking into; the blog would catch them unawares and ambush them. My photos would suddenly make them aware of what was going on in the world. Once you know, you too are automatically held accountable.
That’s how I felt after watching that documentary. I felt accountable, and I needed to do something about it. That’s why I wanted to be a war photographer. Everyone needed to do something about it, and I could reach everyone.
Part of me still wants to be a war photographer, but then part of me is just way too scared. I could die doing that, and that would make my mom (and probably other people, too) really sad. It seems both selfish and ironic that I don’t want to go take photos of terrible things happening to people because I don’t want something terrible to happen to me. I don’t like that it’s all-too-easy for me to distance myself from that. Just because you’re dying doesn’t mean that I have to do something about it. It’s not my problem.
Yikes. That statement is sad but it’s true, isn’t it? Nearly a decade later, I do make money blogging, but I still don’t have a war photos blog.
I watched that War Photographer documentary again last year with one of my friends. After it was over, we both looked at each other and said, “Holy crap.” We both felt like we needed to do something about it.
But then we realized we were both hungry, so we went and got some food at Wendy’s. Like I said… All too easy.
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