I am enormously saddened by the deaths of the two great photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya this last week. I didn't know either of these men in real life but their work left an impression that will stay with me forever. They were humane photographers, first and foremost. You can see how much they cared about people from their photographs.
They existed in the same circumstances, breathed the same air and felt what their subjects did and their documentation of that process are incredible bodies of work. I need not single out any of the memorable images they made, you can make your own judgement...needless to say some are so poignant as to make you cry when you see them... and they remind you of the need not to succumb to an entirely superficial world view portrayed by a commercial media that rarely looks further than who Justin Timberlake is dating or how 'Wills Will Marry Kate'
I send my deepest condolences to their families, friends and loved ones. They put their lives on the line for the greater good of humanity but that is a bitter pill to swallow for those who personally feel their loss.
I didn't really want to write this post, I don't want to turn their passing into some sort of debate... for this year has seen me lose two close friends myself, one who took her own life and the other who was killed in the Christchurch earthquake. The circumstances of their deaths are equally tragic and I miss them greatly and yes... both of their deaths were senseless as well.
Yet Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros died for a reason. That is cold comfort to their families and friends I know, but it is true.
Some are questioning the validity of the work of combat photographers and correspondents. Some have asked what point is there in photographing combat zones when a dwindling investigative media landscape exists in a world where corporations rule governments and the multitude of voices all telegraphing their own opinions seems to drown out a general sense of moral outrage for what occurs in the field of battle.
No-one could doubt the bravery of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in trying to tell the stories of the people afflicted by war. To question the necessity of the work produced by such great photojournalists is to simply ignore that without the media focus, if NO story is told then the atrocities, the inhumanities will continue unchecked and unabated. That two such fine human beings should pay the ultimate cost of losing their lives in trying to point this out to the rest of the world is absolutely tragic but not unexpected. It says all about how threatening most regimes believe photography is to their control.
Yet perhaps the most compelling reasons for photojournalists to always continue their presence in regions that are war torn are the voices that I have heard on this Facebook page. In several comments made by Lybian citizens, Tim Hetherington is called a 'hero'...an epithet I am sure he would have denied but none the less appropriate in its symbology. He and his colleague Chris Hondros were champions of the people and that is a rare and significant honour.
So as the sliding doors of life once again open and shut and obscure these two photojournalists from our view we will remember them as the lionhearts of our profession and see beyond the time and place of their departure into the worlds of the people that they photographed. May they find eternal peace.