Questioning Jim Nachtwey’s unpaid internship opportunity

Recently, I did a search for Jim Nachtwey looking for current work. I came a cross a blog listing, the ad stating that Jim was looking for someone to fill an unpaid internship in his NY office. This for some reason opened a pandoras box of public statements, opinions & snide comments regarding Jim’s work, ethics, and the question of photographers supporting unpaid internships.
Many people were commenting that for someone of Jim’s position who makes 10’s or even 100’s of thousands of dollars a year should be able to offer a a paid internship. It was other people’s opinion that we as photographers completely abolish the unpaid internship.
Last year I was lucky to have jim agree to work with me for 15 weeks as my mentor. I had to pay my school for it in order to get the credits to graduate from my master program. That aside, this was an amazing experience. If you have never heard the man talk about photography and his process, you are missing something. To experience him critiquing my work personally—helping me develop my style in a one-on-one environment is worth its weight in gold. What I learned from Jim in 15 weeks could have easily replaced half my grad school education.
Finally, internships are a time-honored and in some cases coveted institution in our field. They give students a great opportunity to work with people they look up to. Even if it is only as a gopher for the photographer, the opportunity to even ask the photographer a question, gaining from their knowledge is priceless.
As much as I would have loved to have been paid for my work in internships with various photographers, I see it as a rite of passage—paying your dues, a learning experience. There are values that are learned from unpaid internships—humility, respect, and understanding for one’s self.
In the end I disagree with people’s response in the form of making personal jabs at the photographer’s portfolio and ethics due to a business decision. Its shameful and tasteless. These people are entitled to their opinion, but the good things he has accomplished for people in need through his images is admirable and amazing.

To read the ad and the postings:


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