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Libya: Remembering Photojournalists Hetherington and Hondros

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

Award-winning, renowned war photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed in action on April 20, 2011, in Misrata, while covering the chaotic frontline of the Libyan conflict. They were mortally wounded in Tripoli Street, reportedly by a mortar fired by Gaddafi forces at pro-democracy fighters.

Freelance photographer Guy Martin was seriously injured and underwent surgery, while photographer Michael Christopher Brown was also injured. Fellow professionals mourned their slain colleagues, and reminisced on two lives lived in full, and in peril, in the pursuit of truth, while all major photography outlets paid tribute to their work.

Photojournalists Tim Hetherington (photo by Justin Hoch on Flickr, licensed as CC-BY) and Chris Hondros (Twitter profile photo)

Hetherington's last tweet, several hours before he was killed -and months after his previous one- conveyed a sense of foreboding:

In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO.

A phone call to the  Feb17Voices service, which enables people to call in comments to be transcribed and posted online, detailed the circumstances of the photojournalists’ death:

@feb17voices: LPC #Misrata: caller with knowledge of situation: journalists were struck by 2 mortars in an area of Tripoli St. considered ‘safe'. #Libya

War correspondent C J Chivers continuously updated his report for the New York Times, and also posted a grim account on his blog of the conditions in which the bodies of the fallen photographers were evacuated from Misrata.

@cjchivers: New account frm jrnlist w Chris&Tim: They may have been hit by mortar rnd. Updating NYT now. RPGs&Mrtrs both in use on TripSt.

@cjchivers: Remains of Tim and Chris r on the Ionian Spirit tonite, headed by sea to Benghazi, thx to compassion and fast work of HRW and IOM.

Seven Libyan civilians were also killed in Misrata in the same day, as well as a Ukrainian doctor, while his wife lost both her legs.

Reactions on Twitter

Moving eulogies and remembrances from colleagues of the slain photojournalists abounded on Twitter, as well as in blogs and articles, in the following days:

@spinonspin: #chrishondros on the risks of being a conflict photographer: “to be the gazing eyes and thoughtful conscience of the world”

@evanchill: Terrible news in Misrata today. Photojournalists are always first into the danger.

@jenanmoussa: #Aljazeera cameraman Ali Jaber, Moh Nabbous, Tim Hetherington, martyrs of journalism..conflicting reports about Chris Hondros. #Libya

@NickKristof: The courage of photographers in E Libya is breathtaking. Tim Hetherington & Chris Hondros, RIP. http://nyti.ms/ghsjce

@photojournalism: Wednesday 20 April 2011. Black day in the history of photojournalism. I cannot fucking believe this.

@andersoncooper: a friend and great photographer Tim Hetherington has been killed in Libya. The news is gutting. He was such a wonderful guy

@SauvignonBlonde: The last self portrait Chris Hondros sent me. Taken in Iraq b4 he went to Libya. What a stunning photographer. http://twitpic.com/4nkgcu

Libyan pro-democracy Twitter users hailed them as heroes:

@ShababLibya: Remembering #TimeHetherington #ChrisHondros and all Libyans and nonLibyans who have fallen due to #Gaddafi's tyranny.Never forget our heroes

@BenghaziDoc: To the loved ones of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, I send my deepest condolences. Libya will honor their memory always.

@Freedom_7uriyah: RIP Tim Hetherington – Libyans will not forget you, thank you for getting to Misrata and showing the world the reality #Hero

@ibnthabit: sad for @TimHetherington & @ChrisHondros Libyans remember you as heros. Meet me on the corner of Hetherington and Hondros in #Misrata #Libya

“The gazing eyes and thoughtful conscience of the world”

Chris Hondros in Iraq (Photo reposted from Twitpic with permission from J. Mann Charters)

Film-maker Vincent Laforet summarizes why photojournalism is important and what made those men special in his blog:

Chris and Tim were two of the best in the business – icons of our generation (my generation.)  They were both incredibly accomplished and recognized journalists – their work received almost every honor and award that exists today for both stills and motion. [..] Many of us grew up hearing of Robert Capa and other famous war photographers.  Many of us idolized them. The first time I had an AK-47 pointed at me,  I immediately knew that I wasn’t cut out for the incredibly dangerous work myself.   Therefore I’ve always admired those who go out every day to cover conflict across the world – their work is incredibly necessary. [..] Chris was a modern day Capa – his work was unparalleled.[..] Tim's film Restrepo was an incredible piece of work – as were his photographs. [..] I can say that both men died doing what they loved most.

Christina Larson provided a personal remembrance of her friend Chris Hondros in Foreign Policy magazine:

Chris was able to be both intensely present in the moment, as all war photographers must be, and yet forever thinking deeply and broadly about the long march of history, about the rise and fall of empires, and about the drama of individual human lives — our passionate triumphs, dreams, struggles, and heartbreaks unfolding across a larger stage.

Sebastian Junger, Hetherington's co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, delivered a moving last address to his friend in first person, on Vanity Fair:

You and I were always talking about risk because she was the beautiful woman we were both in love with, right? The one who made us feel the most special, the most alive? We were always trying to have one more dance with her without paying the price

But Todd Watson set the record straight on what really drives photojournalists:

It would be easy to dismiss such individuals as adrenalin-addicted war zone junkies, but the truth is these men and women are often the only people there to bear witness and document the atrocities, aftermath, and consequences of the world’s conflicts.

Mary Siceloff also mused on the parallel war fought by war correspondents:

Journalists [..] fight a second, parallel war for transparency, for clarity, for you and I to get the actual story, to see and feel the human toll of warfare. And now two of those brave and important voices are gone. Who will take up sat phone/camera? Who will let us know when dictators are firing on their own people, when prisons have become torture chambers [..] Who can fill these shoes?

And photographer and film-maker Ron Dawson delivered advice to colleagues in both industries:

In light of the drama that seems to plague our industries (both photography and filmmaking), it’s nice to know there are professionals like Tim and Chris redeeming us all. Pursue life with wild abandon, people. Use your craft for good. And follow the examples of Tim and Chris when you represent your industry.

The power and controversy of citizen video

NPR's senior strategist Andy Carvin, interviewed by Global Voices last month on his work in curating news about the Arab revolutions on Twitter, agonized over publishing a graphic video showing the stricken photojournalists in surgery. Carvin defended his decision in a lengthy and dignified post:

I post it nonetheless because I believe it is important to document what happens during wartime and to give people the choice to bear witness. [..]

War does not discriminate: it can claim the young, the old; men and women; soldiers and civilians. And in this case, journalists. [..] I too know a number of people who were very close to these men. But all the other people that have been documented as casualties during these attacks, they all had people who knew them and loved them. Yet we shared footage of them nonetheless, again because of that desire to bear witness. [..]

[..] Ultimately it boils down to this: I feel like I would be an absolute hypocrite if I didn’t share this video.

In his last interview, Tim Hetherington had talked about the power of video and the personal view in reporting:

video is having a profound effect on our society. I watched Anderson Cooper right after the Japan earthquake, and the entire broadcast was amateur videos. And they were fascinating—almost more powerful than professional images. Why is that? It’s the immediacy. And it’s the intimacy. It’s a personal view.

Hetherington had compiled this harrowing collection of graffiti images whilst covering the civil war in Liberia from behind rebel lines, which earned him an execution order from then president Charles Taylor:

He billed his latest short film, Diary, shot after 10 years of war reporting, as “a kaleidoscope of images that link our western reality to the seemingly distant worlds we see in the media.”

Remembrances and retrospectives

All major photojournalism outlets honored the two fallen photojournalists with photo galleries showcasing their work. The New York Times’ Lens Blog cast parting glances at Hetherington and Hondros, as did Time Lightbox (HetheringtonHondros) and Life Magazine (HetheringtonHondros).

Large format retrospectives of their work were featured in: The Boston Globe – Big PictureSacramento Bee – The FrameThe Atlantic – In FocusLA Times – FrameworkDenver Post – Captured and Tampa Bay – All Eyes. The GuardianTelegraphWashington Post and Foreign Policy Magazine also published galleries of their photos. Photographer Mikko Takkunen compiled an extensive roundup of links to tributes in their honor.

Remembrances and images of the two photojournalists are collected at the Facebook page of the Conflict Zone non-profit project, a compilation of works by combat photographers and journalists to support the severely injured and their families, inspired by photojournalist Joao Silva, who lost both legs in a landmine blast in October 2010 in Afghanistan, while on assignment for the New York Times.

Attacks on media in Libya intensify

The Committee to Protect Journalists produced a tally of casualties and attacks on the press in Libya since February, intensified in recent weeks:

80 attacks on the press since political unrest erupted in Libya last month. They include four fatalities, at least three serious injuries, 49 detentions, 11 assaults, two attacks on news facilities, the jamming of Al-Jazeera and Al-Hurra transmissions, at least four instances of obstruction, the expulsion of two international journalists, and the interruption of Internet service. At least six local journalists are missing amid speculation they are in the custody of security forces. One international journalist and two media support workers are also unaccounted for

Reporters Without Borders outright accused the Gaddafi regime of targeting the press. Some media professionals concurred:

@mike_wood: Dictators should stop killing journalists reporting on dictators slaughtering their own people. #TimHetherington#ChrisHondros #RIP

@HalaJaber: Are journalists now being purposely targeted to prevent coverage in #Misrata?

That may well be the case, with Arab journalists covering the conflict especially in peril. Al Jazeera cameraman Ali Jaber was ambushed and killed near Benghazi, on March 12, while Al-Hurra TV channel founder Mohamed Nabbous was killed by sniper fire in Benghazi on March 19.

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Uprising 2011.

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