Update: Chris Hondros took these stunning photographs just hours before he died. More after the jump.
Tim Hetherington, a wartime photographer and documentary filmmaker — along with his associate, Chris Hondros, also a war photojournalist — were killed today on assignment in Libya, reports say. According to fellow photographer Andre Lhion, Hetherington “died in Misrata now when covering the front line.”
The British-born director has been exploring the wartorn African nation of Libya since roughly the Academy Awards in February…
… where his Afghanistan doc “Restrepo” was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. Though it lost to Wall Street expose “Inside Job,” the film did take Sundance's top prize.
His last two Tweets are from the Oscars and — suddenly — the Misrata battlefield:
ABC News, which reports that Hetherington was killed in a “mortar attack,” has an account of his fearlessness in the warzone:
“Tim was one of the bravest photographers and filmmakers I have ever met,” said ABC News' James Goldston, who worked closely with Hetherington as executive producer of “Nightline.”
“During his shooting for the Nightline specials he very seriously broke his leg on a night march out of a very isolated forward operating base that was under attack. He had the strength and character to walk for four hours through the night on his shattered ankle without complaint and under fire, enabling that whole team to reach safety.”
From the prolific artist's bio on the “Restrepo” website:
Hetherington has reported on conflict and human rights issues for more than ten years. He was the only photographer to live behind rebel lines during the 2003 Liberian civil war – work that culminated in the film “Liberia: an Uncivil War” and the book “Long Story Bit by Bit : Liberia Retold” (Umbrage 2009), and his work for Human Rights Watch to uncover civilian massacres on the Chad / Darfur border in 2006 appeared in the documentary “The Devil Came on Horseback”.
He is the recipient of four World Press Photo awards, including the World Press Photo of the Year (2007), and an Alfred I. duPont Award in broadcast journalism while on assignment with Sebastian Junger for ABC News (2009). A native of the UK, he is lives in New York and is a contributing photographer for Vanity Fair.
Chris Hondros was nominated mid-decade for a Pulitzer Prize for his work in Liberia, including the following photo.
A Huffington Post blogger remembers interviewing Hetherington at the Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, and posts the following video of his encounter:
Update: The Internet erupted with Hetherington and Hondros tributes today. (Two more photographer friends traveling with the pair, Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown, were injured, but not killed, in the Libyan attack.)
The New York Times quotes Hetherington humbly commenting on his own (arguably heroic) profession: “If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.”
A Village Voice piece on “Restrepo,” printed last summer, observes that the film humanized the act of battle instead of politically demonizing it as mankind's ultimate evil. An excerpt from the raw adventure piece, including commentary from Hetherington's co-director, Sebastian Junger:
“Left-wing people–and I include myself among those people–tend to have this idea that war is the expression of some kind of modern ill, of civilization gone wrong,” says Junger by phone from Houston, where he's promoting his book WAR, the film's companion piece. “But the politically incorrect truth is that war is extremely ingrained in us–in our evolution as humans–and we're hard-wired for it. I think our movie communicates that in some ways.”
It's no wonder that Restrepo, which opens next week, is being distributed by National Geographic Entertainment. The film plays like a documentary study of the human animal in his natural state–war being how homo sapiens display the survival-of-the-fittest principle.
“The most important thing for us was to make an honest film,” says Hetherington from his Williamsburg apartment. “After many years of war reporting, we've both gotten to the point of wanting to see people in war not as symbols or illustrations, but as people. Often, war reporters gloss over things. Sebastian talks about that in his book, about how reporters try to deny the excitement of war, when the fact is that war is exciting. We thought, 'Let's just show what's going on out there and not editorialize.' “
We lost some clarity to our understanding of overseas violence today, with the brutal departure of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. May they rest in peace.
Update: Just last month, four New York Times journalists were held hostage in Libya, during which time they were bound, beaten and groped. And in February, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan suffered a “sustained sexual assault” after the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hasni Mubarak.
The March 21 NYT editorial “A Dangerous Pursuit” approached the topic of journalists in the warzone:
The Newseum, a museum about the news media in Washington, has reported that more than 160 journalists have died in Iraq since the war began. That is more than both World Wars, Korea and Vietnam combined.
That, in a tragic way, has always been the risk of covering war. But journalists also are increasingly targets of repressive governments — in Russia, Mexico, the Philippines and now in the Middle East. Turkey, which helped our journalists so effectively, has a bad record when it comes to reporters at home.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented more than 50 attacks on the press in Libya since political trouble began last month. Those include 33 detentions, two attacks on news facilities, the jamming of broadcasts and interruption of the Internet. At least six local journalists are missing, and Libyan authorities are still holding four Al Jazeera journalists. Agence-France Presse has reported two journalists missing in Libya.
The BBC reported three of its journalists were beaten, subject to mock executions and forced to witness torture of other Libyans at a military barracks.
On top of that, of course, are the many civilian lives lost just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Today, the Libyan death toll reached 10,000. How utterly tragic that two of the very men trying to bring that reality to light now become part of the toll. Again, R.I.P.
Originally posted April 20 at 11 a.m.