James Nachtwey named inaugural Roth scholar
By Sophia Johnston, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, September 14, 2012
Internationally acclaimed war photographer and humanitarian James Nachtwey ’70 was appointed as the first Roth Distinguished Visiting Scholar on Sept. 6. The endowed position, established with the support of trustee Steve Roth ’62 Tu’63 and his wife Daryl, aims to bring distinguished individuals across disciplines to campus for a year to engage with students and faculty members in a “deep and sustained way,” Associate Dean of the Faculty for the Arts and Humanities Adrian Randolph said.
The yearlong selection process for the position involves faculty nominations and vetting by a committee of deans and faculty. Although Roth expressed keen interest in the choices, he does not play a role in the selection process, Dean of the Faculty Michael Masantundo said.
“Nachtwey’s national and international reputation contributed to his selection as the first Roth Distinguished Scholar,” Masantundo said. “The fact that he has a connection to Dartmouth was a nice bonus.”
Nachtwey, who has committed his life to documenting poverty, injustice, disease, famine and war, will remain at Dartmouth as a visiting scholar for the 2012-2013 academic year, Randolph said.
“His photographs not only often bring injustice into focus, but also interrogate subjects and viewers,” he said. “It is impossible to take a neutral stand toward what he presents.“
Masantundo said he hopes Dartmouth students will benefit from Nachtwey’s expertise as a “broad-minded creative artist.”
“I hope that he will engage interested students both in the craft of photography but also in the social meaning of the photos and creative work,” he said. “His expertise is not just being a great photographer. He has an eye for using photos to evoke responses to great and tragic issues of our time, which is a great combination for students engaged across liberal arts.”
He added that the endowed position is unique in that it will bring scholars to campus for the whole year.
“There are very rarely gifts of this magnitude that can bring an incredibly busy person here for an entire year,” he said. “Roth’s gift has given us the attractive package, and I believe we have the intellectual gift on campus.”
Nachtwey’s residency, which coincides with the College’s Year of the Arts initiative, will offer students an “opportunity to reflect upon this important art form and to hear from one of its greatest living practitioners,” Randolph said. While no specific classes or programs have been announced yet, students will be able to learn from Nachtwey and collaborate on projects, according to Acting Director of the Dickey Center for International Understanding Chris Wohlforth.
The 2002 resident Montgomery Fellow and the recipient of a Dartmouth honorary degree in 2010, Nachtwey visited Dartmouth last spring as the Dickey Center’s Class of 1950 Senior Foreign Affairs Fellow, during which he lectured on his career as a war photographer and attended the undergraduate classes “Narrative Journalism,” “Photography” and “War and Peace in the Modern Age.”
Wohlforth said that Nachtwey’s visit highlighted how he can provide multiple perspectives from his personal and professional experiences.
“In each of the classes he played a different role — sharing his experiences as a photojournalist and witness to historical events, teaching the art of photography and discussing the role of the individual as a witness to conflict,” she said. “His experiences as a photographer and the fact he chose to cover some of the most dramatic events of modern history make him so versatile for Dartmouth faculty.”
The Dickey Center, where Nachtwey will have an office during his time at Dartmouth, will help connect Nachtwey to different parts of campus, according to Wohlforth. Nachtwey “gets a tremendous kick working with students” and also believes his presence will help students understand the nuances behind the “intent to do good while witnessing human suffering,” Wohlforth said.
“Nachtwey’s presence on campus brings human value to his role as witness,” she said. “It is more important than simply showing his photos. When he talks about where he was and how he felt when he took his photographs, he does it with such humility that his presence will be such a wonderful thing.”
History major Zach Nelson ’15 believes Nachtwey’s residency will raise students’ awareness of the world’s most dangerous regions and both the suffering and hope that exist within them.
“Nachtwey’s extensive work, that brings to light the darkest and cruelest acts of humanity, is an inspiring example of how an individual can make a discernible difference,” he said.
Studio art department chair Colleen Randall said her department is excited that the first recipient of the endowed position is an artist during the Year of the Arts.
Nachtwey’s appointment will highlight “visual literacy” — the way we view photographs and understand what they mean — photography and the arts, according to studio art lecturer Virginia Beahan.
Nachtwey attended Beahan’s photography class in the spring, during which he invited students to join a conversation about their work and also answered questions about his work, including the challenges and difficulties he faced.
“I am thrilled that Nachtwey will be on campus for a year as it is a chance for him to have ongoing discussions and a sustained relationship with students,” Beahan said. “I think it was widely known within the Dartmouth community how influential students found his spring visit. They embraced the opportunity to speak with someone of his stature in a very personal way.”
In addition to the Roth Distinguished Scholar position, the Roth gift endowed two senior professorships, Masantundo said.
Roth and Nachtwey were unavailable for comment by press time.