I remember my mother pulling a picture out of our local Seattle Times newspaper for me, running large on the third page. A news picture tucked inside the paper, sitting on its own, was odd to see. It was as if the editors thought they had to get a great picture published even if it wasn’t ‘newsworthy’ for a local paper. I was blown away, I’m sure I said outloud that this picture would win a Pulitzer. This was in July 2003, right after I had graduated high school and a month before I started college, where I would begin working at the newspaper and start in photojournalism. The picture was of a soldier in Liberia celebrating his skills on the battlefield, shot by Chris Hondros for Getty Images. I’m sure it was the most important image I had seen up until that point in my life.
Hondros didn’t win a Pulitzer year, but his work from Liberia was nominated and this image was honored by World Press Photo. But more important to me is this encounter introduced me to Hondro’s whole body of work and his approach to covering these world stories. His photographs became an obsession for me at that early moment in my career. I thought there was no other photographer who’s job I’d rather work towards. That has changed in the mean time, but I’ve continued to follow his work closely, often checking Getty Editorial just to see what this talented and ballsy photographer was out there working on.
Hondros wrote an update to the story behind this picture on Digital Journalist in 2005: Me and Joseph Duo, and it shows a lot about his perseverance and dedication to his stories. As a young photographer, Hondros’ work helped set me in my own place. He was an example showing how far you need to go before you’re “doing it right” and taking responsibility for the work and the places you find yourself covering. You can start believing that only the photographs matter, until you realize what more important information we learn when we can seek the full story of what is happening in front of us. The ones working towards this goal are how the good ones got great. Hondro’s reputation to me is about commitment to stories for far longer than they are sexy or on front pages. This push, to find outlets for the work you find important even when others dont see, is the sign of a great photographer. Someone we should respect, and miss when they leave us.
I’m mourning his loss and the loss of vital work Hondros and Hetherington could pass on to me or any other of the next generation coming up. I still have dreamed of working alongside him as a colleague and thanking him for the role he played as I was just starting to become interested in photojournalism. I’m sad that I’ll never have the chance to work alongside these two greats, in admiration for what they’ve done for us.
But I am looking forward to showing Guy Martin around Belgrade, as we’ve been long been planning, just as soon as he feels up for it. Last Wednesday, April 20, was terrible day in our industry and amongst our friends. But it will help us see a different, more realistic and fragile world which we run about in. I hope this day lets us think more about what we and all of our friends do. I hope we keep pushing and sharing our experiences with photographs, but please do it in a way that we can come home to our families.
I respect photographers like Tim, Chris, Guy and Michael (and the others who are alongside them there unwounded) for working so hard to get into a dangerous situation they were convinced they needed to report from. Perhaps all their lives were destined to find themselves in Misrata that day, maybe it was just the karma of good deeds balancing out. But I respect that these people were where they needed to be, though we may wish they hadn’t been there. Duckrabbit posted a thoughtful piece about this situation, in concert with David Alan Harvey’s post about Chris and Tim on Burn Magazine. Please have a look at both, and Duckrabbit’s follow-up on the myth-building around war photography that may be coming in the wake of this tragedy. There is no way to fully honor these men with platitudes or upcoming grants in their honor, but I also worry about getting too carried away with romanticization. We are at a moment where everyone is talking about Hondros and Hetherington, every time I turn on the radio or look at a new publication. An honor, but sad that their work is only now getting discussed and only in this detached context. War photography is a hell of a thing.. it has produced so much good and so much senseless death.
Gentlemen, rest well. All of my respect to you both, and to Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown who are recuperating from the same attack. And all the same for the rest of my colleagues and friends who are heading out to front lines tomorrow. It may very well be worth it, to show the rest of us how the world is operating in our name today. Just remember the rest of us back home thinking of you and wishing you well.
Information on Service and Funeral for Chris Hondros:
New York Service
Wednesday, Apr 27, Sacred Hearts St. Stephens Church, 1pm
125 Summit Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231
Tel. (718) 246-8342
Wake – Fri, Apr. 29, Rogers & Breece Funeral Home, 6-8 pm
Funeral – Sat, Apr. 30, St. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, 11 am
Regardless of which service you may or may not be able to attend:
In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to The Chris Hondros Fund, which will provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography.
The Chris Hondros Fund
c/o Christina Piaia
50 Bridge Street, No. 414
Brooklyn, NY 11201