It took several hours after hearing the news of Tim Hetherington’s (and Chris Hondros) death on Wednesday to realize that Tim had graced this blog with a well-considered (and assuredly delivered) perspective on his work.
I didn’t even know Ronit Novak (Photo Editor at Canadian Business, MoneySense, and PROFIT magazines at Rogers Publishing) when she offered to blog for HMAb from NYPH09. If it weren’t for her interest, I likely wouldn’t have blogged at all from the festival but we both did and scored some great content, including a passionate interview with Tim Hetherington, whose Sleeping Soldiers series was the highlight of the festival. As I thought about re-posting that interview, I asked Ronit for an introduction and she obliged:
The thing about being a war photographer is you really have to be there. You must physically place yourself in the center of the war, avoiding shrapnel, dodging bullets and wading through mortar shells. Instead of wielding a gun you carry a camera. Your whole purpose is to show people living far away what the conflict looks like. At times you have to swivel and point at dead bodies, shooting them again – but in a different way. That is difficult work.
Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, both killed in Libya on Wednesday morning, were two different men, with different takes, seeking to convey the immediacy, tragedy and reality of conflict. They had to see everything, but at the same time remain unseen. Existing outside the frame, photographers must be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. What they saw and felt is conveyed in their images. As we try to find meaning in wars that seem absurd to us, their photos bear witness and pack complex scenes into consumable bites for a mass audience. It’s no easy feat – politically, philosophically, spiritually, emotionally.
There will be no more photographs from Tim and Chris. That absence reminds me that while a war photograph is a contained composition, it is an abstraction of the real scene: what is outside of the frame can be as revealing as what’s within it.
This is an interview I did with Tim Hetherington at the New York Photo Festival in 2009. I was a bit stricken by how handsome he was. I also had a chip on my shoulder for photographers working in cahoots with NGOs; apparently so did he. The interview takes a fascinating turn towards the end, where Tim delves into what it means to photograph what he called the “center of war.”