It’s now just over two weeks since the British multimedia journalist and film-maker, Tim Hetherington, was tragically killed in Libya, along with American photojournalist, Chris Hondros. Both Tim and Chris were committed, intelligent and hugely talented journalists, and the world is a poorer place without them. My heart goes out to their families and friends.
I didn’t know Chris Hondros, I’d never met him. I had only seen his name appear in picture credits for Getty Images every now and then. And I only had the pleasure of meeting Tim once, a few months ago, as he presented a screening of his Oscar-nominated film Restrepo, at London’s Host gallery. So why am I writing about the deaths of people I didn’t know?
Well, although I’d never met Tim before, he was kind enough to talk with me for a while after the screening of his film. I gather by the comments and tributes from those who knew him well, that this was probably typical of the kind of person he was – friendly, gregarious, interested, passionate, determined.
And I kind of feel like I did know him, in a way. I was aware of his reputation as one of the most interesting people working in photojournalism over the last decade or so. And some of his photographs hang on the walls of a corridor in the building I work in, powerful portraits of men, women and children in Liberia and Angola. The result of a collaboration between him, his agency, Panos Pictures, and an ex-colleague of mine a few years ago – they now also serve as a daily reminder of Tim’s talent as a photographer and his ability to connect with people. When I spoke to him, he talked about these pictures, and that he would be interested in working together in the future. I also remember him mentioning his experimental short film ‘Diary‘, which I promised to check out. (I admit that I didn’t get around to watching it until recently, since what happened two weeks ago.)
So I’ve been debating with myself over the last fortnight whether to blog anything about Tim and Chris. I didn’t know either of them. What could I add to all of the moving tributes that have already been made about them? But I did want to post something about Diary, which is a truly extraordinary piece of film. I’d also been meaning to write something about Panos Pictures, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary as an independent, socially concerned photo agency this year.
And then there was the fact that we’d also been talking to Panos about possibly commissioning one of their other photographers, Guy Martin, to document British humanitarian aid work in Libya. Unbelievably, Guy was alongside Tim and Chris in Misrata two weeks ago, and was seriously injured in the same incident that took their lives. Thankfully, he survived and is now recovering in hospital. I wish him well.
But I’ve seen two things online over the past couple of days that convinced me to write all of this down and share it. First, that Panos have posted an edit of Tim’s Sleeping Soldiers photographs, taken from his book Infidel. I remember looking at these pictures in the book after Tim talked excitedly about them in our brief conversation. After the visceral, roller-coaster experience of watching Restrepo, there was something profoundly moving about then looking at these calm, restful images of some of the same men that appeared in the film. The pictures have the same, if not a greater, effect on me now.
Secondly, I came across an unexpectedly moving blog post by Barrie Peach, part of the UK Foreign Office special envoy mission in Benghazi, Libya. Barrie was involved in the efforts to evacuate Tim, Chris, and Guy from Misrata. He writes elegantly about the reaction of people in Libya to what happened, and I felt I wanted to share this more widely as well.
Tim’s family have announced that they will be setting up a charitable foundation to continue his humanitarian work around the world. For more information, see www.timhetherington.org. Chris Hondros’s fiancée has also set up The Chris Hondros Fund in conjunction with Getty Images, to provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography. I hope that these prove to be fitting ways to remember them and the values they stood for.
You can watch Tim’s elegiac film Diary below. Of course I’m sure that he never conceived that this may one day be viewed as his epitaph, but it’s hard not to read it as such now. May he, and Chris, rest in peace..