One year ago, on April 20, 2011, Tim Hetherington was killed by mortar fire in the Libyan town of Misrata along with Chris Hondros, in the raging war between rebels and Muammar Gaddafi's loyalist forces. Countless other journalists in conflict zones across the globe have since joined them, strengthening the list of great photographers and journalists who have perished while doing the job they loved.
Without trying to minimize the importance of the deaths of his colleagues, Tim Hetherington’s demise somehow strikes closer for me. Maybe it is because I found his movie Restrepo on a U.S. infantry platoon in Afghanistan so gripping, or maybe because I preferred his work and felt he was particularly talented. His death epitomizes for me what it means to put your beliefs ahead of everything else and choose to advance humanity’s knowledge. On a side note, Hetherington’s middle name is Telemachus, meaning “far from battle,”something he clearly disregarded.
Before him, there was Robert Capa, Henri Huet, Larry Burrows, and Ken Oosterbroek, among the many others who also left too soon. I invite you to look at some of their amazing shots and think about whether these photographs have impacted your perception of the conflicts covered.
In the brilliant documentary War Photographer that follows James Nachtwey’s life as one of the most respected photojournalists alive, he mentions:“The strength of photography lies in its ability to evoke humanity. If war is an attempt to negate humanity, then photography can be perceived as the opposite of war.”
This quote is extremely powerful, because it highlights the compassionate element that a photo contains and the way in which its message can travel limitlessly. It is primordial in my opinion, that their sacrifice and those of future fatalities is not forgotten.
My aim is not to ask for more security for reporters and photographers, nor is it to address the violence and cruelty of dictatorship everywhere. Documenting war will always be dangerous and we should not expect “zero deaths” during a conflict.
Rather, this is a simple plea to spare a thought for those who have chosen to risk their life as non-combatants in order for us to be aware of what is happening in distant lands marred by conflict and preferably act to stop it.