Image courtesy of Jim Bourg/Reuters
Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed yesterday in Misrata, Libya. I didn't know Tim. I respected his work and how he went about creating it. I did know Chris. He was a friend and a man I deeply admired.
Chris was a kind and generous person. He was a "working intellectual", which is to say he could speak with great insight on the arts, politics, and world events (in an academic manner), with a priceless knowledge gained through real world experience.
Chris was the rare bird who could lecture on the founding of Liberia, give insight into the current political situation (with first person antidotes of the principles), and offer opinions on where it went wrong, while at the same time showing timeless, riveting images of the resulting chaos.
That's the kind of talent that demands the attention of both would-be presidents, and jaded press corps (as you can see above).
Chris had mastered the greatest feat of photojournalism. Which is not to make great images or tell compelling stories (he was smart, had a great eye, and wasn't afraid of hard work, so in I guess you could say that part came naturally to him). Chris managed to make images that spoke wholly of the people in his photographs. He removed himself from the equation, his work was about others, yet at the same time he made images that completely revealed himself.
Call it a Zen thing.
There are some things, that once seen, demand a response from the viewer. That's why people often avert their eyes when they see a beggar. I think that's why the priest(?) crossed the road when he was coming across the naked and dying man in the parable of the Good Samaritan. By refusing to look upon the man, he could avoid troubling himself. Whereas the Samaritan, upon fully seeing the man, properly responded to his plight.
I know it's not much. I know it's little comfort to the families, but for what it's worth, I think that's some of the motivation for people like Chris and Tim.
I stumbled across Chris a few days after Katrina had ripped up New Orleans. The details are a bit hazy, something to do with a crippled or demented old man, stranded, left to fend for himself in the middle of a flooded neighborhood, perhaps dead or close to it. I think the request for help came from neighbors or a church group. We arrived at the address in separate boats. There was no response to our knocks. The place seemed abandoned. Chris insisted on a thorough search and I seem to remember glass being broken. Like I said, details are hazy.
Thankfully the man had evacuated. The house was empty.
A note of apology was left.
Regardless, Chris was the guy who refused to look the other way. He was, in a very real sense, the Good Samaritan. He made a choice in his life to be a witness, to not only help others to act, but to act himself.
It's no accident the Greek root for the word witness is martyr.
I am deeply saddened by the loss of both Chris and Tim. My prayers are with their families.