NPR logo A Photographer's Take On Island Islam

National Geographic

A Photographer's Take On Island Islam

James Nachtwey is in a league of his own. If you haven't heard of him, you've probably at least seen his work. It's been in local papers, national papers, Time and National Geographic magazine and has won numerous awards, including the Robert Capa Gold Medal (five times). He's a war and conflict photographer, and his images can be paradoxical: They're beautiful, but often really hard to look at. Some of them appear in the October issue of National Geographic, to tell the story of Islam in Indonesia.

Of the 240 million people inhabiting the 17,000 islands, 86 percent are Muslim — making Indonesia the most populous Muslim country in the world. And the face of Islam is as diverse as the country is populated. From violent extremists to practitioners of a more tolerant "Smiling Islam," the citizens of Indonesia are slowly adjusting to a democratization process that began about 10 years ago, after the fall of the authoritarian President Suharto.

Things are still uncertain, and the question of Islam's rapport with democracy is still on the table. Nachtwey's photos in National Geographic's October issue show the various incarnations of life in Indonesia, and the article is an approachable introduction to a culture that is both predominantly Muslim and richly complex.

View more of Nachtwey's work on his Web site, or check out this TED talk in which he accepts an award and discusses his career.

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