I had the good fortune to work with some of the best photojournalists in the business – in both war and peace — over a four-decade career, and while I did not know Chris Hondros or Tim Hetherington, I mourn their passing.
Hondros, 41, a Pulitzer Prize winner widely admired for his work for Getty Images in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fellow photojournalist Tim Hetherington, 40, were mortally wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade yesterday in Misurata, Libya, after filing photos of fighting between rebel and government forces. Hetherington was the director and producer (with Sebastian Junger) of the documentary Restrepo. Photographers Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown also were injured.
There have been many great photographs to come out of the Iraq war, including the work of my former colleague Jim MacMillan, who shared the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography for his up-close images of Iraqi insurgents, but the deeply powerful Hondros photo atop this post is by my lights the best.
Hondros was nearby when American troops fired on a car thought to be carrying insurgents. It turned out to be an Iraqi family. Only the little girl standing amidst the splattered blood of her parents survived the January 2005 incident.
Photojournalists like Mac will tell you that they are merely doing their jobs, but that does not convey the hardships and dangers they endure. Most, in my experience, are equal parts purposeful, brave and crazy. Family and personal relationships almost invariably suffer.
Then there is my dear friend Susan Winters Cook, winner of the 1994 Robert F. Kennedy Award for Photojournalism, who repeatedly went into black townships in South Africa, places where no white person, let alone a white woman, went, to photograph an appalling squalor and poverty unknown to Americans.
I was in a few hot spots as a reporter and photographer over the years, but beyond being shot at a few times (but never hit), the worst was having to contend with teargas canisters and panicky protesters while shooting a massive anti-nukes demonstration on the streets of Tokyo and getting my hand, one of my Nikormat FTs and a 28 millimeter lens crushed. (Yes, I date myself since Nikon stopped making the Nikormat in 1978.)
And so when right wingers villified as thriller seekers CNN‘s Anderson Cooper, who along with his camera crew was attacked by a mob, and CBS‘s Lara Logan, who was beaten and sexually assaulted, all while covering the frenzied aftermath of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation in February, all I can do is grimace. They are not thrill seekers any more than Hondros and Hetherington were.
The names of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington can now be added to the honor roll of reporters and photographers killed in modern wars.
Some 149 have been killed in Iraq and another 22 in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, a “mere” 67 were killed in Vietnam, including a photographer friend who stepped on a booby trap. Why so few in Vietnam? Because reporters and photographers seldom were embedded with combat units back then, and if anything have become more fearless.