Reflections on two deaths
Last Wednesday, two photojournalists, Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, died in Libya. It still bothers me. They both were amazing photographers. You can google their names for their websites. I’ve appreciated the work of Chris Hondros for a long time. Hetherington was British-born and the Oscar-nominated co-director of the documentary “Restrepo.” Hondros was a New York-based photographer for Getty Images. His work appeared in major magazines and newspapers around the world, and his awards include the Robert Capa Gold Medal, one of the highest prizes in war photography. Swayne Hall, a longtime friend who works as a photo editor with The Associated Press, said that Hondros has an intimacy in his work. “Some people will use a long lens so they don’t have to get up close. But Chris will get up close, he’s not afraid to be with whatever he’s photographing.” Former colleagues all said the Hondros had a good attitude, a great eye for detail and a personable nature.
In a story about the two, a Newsweek article said, “We depend on them for truth, glimpses into human vileness, even as we cut their jobs and cut their space and treat their work as if it’s the most disposable part of the ever-shrinking media.” New York Times photographer João Silva lost both legs to a land mine recently while in Afghanistan. The Newsweek story goes on to quote him, “My motivation was always to be on the edge of history, to get the message out. If I could go back and do it all again, would I do it? Yeah, most certainly, because this is what I do….I’m fortunate enough to get to see people’s lives in some of the most intimate moments, and record history.” The article goes on, “Both Hetherington and Hondros were surely motivated by many things: wanderlust, the thrill of seeing history through the shutter, a curious feeling of comfort in conflict zones.”
I totally understand. While working for newspapers, I wasn’t content to just photograph local people sitting at their computers, food photos or local sports events. I enjoyed most of my work and always tried to get the best photo possible in any situation. But, having traveled abroad a lot, I always had the wanderlust. Eventually, I found ways to cover important stories abroad. I never covered war, but covered the effects of war. I also covered the effects on people from natural disasters. Being a single father, I could usually only get away in the half of the summer when my son was visiting his mother in another state. My two daughters came to live with me and my son half the summer and every other Christmas vacation. It was hard to plan these photo trips abroad. But, some of my best photos and ones that impacted me greatly came from these trips. Once, when the Kosovo refugee crisis started, I contacted an international medical team organization and was able to fly with them in their second group out. I photographed for them, showing their volunteer workers treating thousands of refugees that had streamed across the border into neighboring Albania. I’ll never forget some of the faces that I caught on camera. The despair and hopelessness of many who had lost all their possessions and even their documents. I often wonder what happened to them. Near the end of the war in Bosnia, I initiated a trip there to photograph a local woman who was running the army support hospital in Tuzla. I had the support from my newspaper. I bought a ticket and flew to Zagreb, Croatia, rented a car and drove to Bosnia. People back home thought I was crazy. I was able to get a lot of photos and stories for the newspaper back home. It wasn’t always safe and I had to be careful about land mines, but the worst that happened was having parts stolen off my rental car. After the major flooding in Honduras years ago, I decided to go and cover the story. I bought a ticket and went on my own, finding ways to get to where the worst destruction was and photograph it and the people it affected. I even talked my way onto a government army helicopter to photograph the rescue of some stranded and injured residents. If I hadn’t been a single father, dedicated to raising my son, I would have wanted to cover major events around the world. It gets in your blood and you feel you have to tell the stories of the human suffering in hopes that things will change or they will get the help and support they need. I can understand the photojournalists like Hetherington and Hondros who risk their lives to cover these stories. We all make choices in how we live and what we do. I chose to stay in the same town, working for the same newspaper, so my son could have a stable home and attend the same schools from grade school through his graduation from college. I was able to attend nearly all of his soccer games every year from preschool through high school. I went to all his parent-teacher conferences and usually had time to play basketball with him in the evenings after my work was done. I don’t regret it. My son and I are close today. In October, he will be marrying a great woman and I’m so happy for him. Having said all this, well, I still have the wanderlust. Maybe that partially explains why, after having been laid off from my job, I chose to live abroad. Losing my job, I always felt was a blessing. It gave me a chance to do something totally different and exciting. And now, after almost a year and a half of living in Cali, Colombia, I feel it’s my home. But, maybe, that wanderlust will eventually lead me to a new place. I don’t know. For now, I’m happy spending time with friends here, studying and improving my Spanish every day. I also enjoy photographing the people here and events I go to. I enjoy keeping up with this blog. it’s like my daily newspaper feature story or something. I’m happy I have so many people that are interested in following it and that I can share my photos with them. By the way, the photo above was taken while my friends and I were driving back from Palmira to Cali.