Posted April 28, 2011
Chris Hondros (March 14, 1970–April 20, 2011), senior staff photographer at
Getty Images, died last week in a mortar attack in Misrata, Libya, along with
photojournalist and film director Tim Hetherington. Creating some of the most
compelling images to date of the Libyan War, and having documented the Iraq
War from the beginning (earning him the Robert Capa Gold Medal award in 2005), Chris’s life was dedicated to the service of excising and composing order out of chaos and terrible tragedy—capturing up-close war images for the rest of us to safely digest in the daily news.
Dying on a battlefield may seem glorious, yet Chris knew all too well that it is not. Chris was neither a rogue nor a cocky war photographer with something to prove. His was a calculating, deft mind—working from full-frontal cortex in the midst of chaos that could instead call for the hindbrain thinking of an adrenaline junkie. Engaging in a formerly unknowable panorama of cacophonous ruin, Chris would discern the scene and find the important piece—the metaphor. A Liberian boy soldier wearing a necktie; a lonely girl in front of her bombed-out West Bank apartment building; a woman without hands, holding her infant baby with leftover forearms—these were sensitive and insightful compositions made from terrifically horrible situations. Chris once told me that “When something’s happening, the impetus might be to run, to not take a picture, but in fact that is exactly when you should take a picture—take a picture of the thing that’s happening, that’s our job.” Despite the clear risks, I don’t think any of us imagined that “the thing that’s happening” would claim him.
After dozens of trips to Baghdad, I asked him why he kept going back. He said he was committed to seeing it to the end—he was there at the start and he would finish the job. Chris was set to the task of creating a visual history—not merely as an “assignment.” This attitude extended to his passion for living—his love of music, travel, learning, and people.
Chris framed clear windows into inaccessible worlds, places marked by indifference and pain. His remarkable offerings to us showcase his belief that pictures could change the world by giving us pause, causing moments of deep reflection and returning us to the sense of our shared humanness. Now we are returned to this humanness because he is lost to us—a deeply loved person known all over the world as a friend, loyal partner in the field, and committed photographer. The personal loss has been difficult, but reading the streaming condolences on his Facebook page, thinking of his mother and his grieving fiancée, the loss magnifies—and my heart goes out to them.
Jen Saffron, MFA, is an instructor in the Film Studies Program at the
University of Pittsburgh and an independent writer and curator.