The Price of War Photography – The Near-Invisible Demise of Chris Hondros
During last year photography magazines, blogs and many other publications have been full of the demise of Tim Hetherington whilst covering the civil war in Libya. Beautiful obituaries were written by friends and colleagues alongside some critical pieces by others, blaming Hetherington for playing the hero by covering wars and therefore somehow perversely deserving his own death. Unfortunately in all this outpouring of grief and criticism, one fact has been seemingly forgotten or at least conveniently overlooked. That is the death of fellow photographer Chris Hondros. And if the Press Emblem Campaign based in Geneva is to be believed, another 106 journalists were killed in 2011 whilst doing their jobs. Twenty alone died during the Arab Spring, and another hundred plus were attacked, intimidated, arrested or wounded in the Middle East. Mexico arises as the most dangerous place to work in the PEC’s survey, before even Pakistan, Iraq or Libya. These are frightening statistics. 1
But to come back to the forgotten death of Chris Hondros. Why did he not receive as much attention as Hetherington? In fact, why did the other 106 journalists not receive the amount of attention that Hetherington got? And here I am only referring to those who died in 2011. What about all the nameless others who have died on the job in the past? Why are there no photography or journalism awards established in all of their names? Is it because their work was not well-known enough? Or is it because the wars they were covering were not newsworthy enough? Why do they risk life and limb to report on terrible atrocities, only for their efforts to be forgotten, or worse, not even making it into the collective memory?
War photographers’ job, their calling was so unequivocally good, so worthy, I could not see how anyone could doubt their motives or dispute their goals, or aspire to do anything else with photography. These people deserved statues. As I grew older, I realized more and more how ineffectual war reporting has become.
When I got my first camera at the age of fifteen, war photography inspired me. I looked up to those photographers winning World Press Photo Awards. Their work was to me what photography was all about. It was about reporting all the bad things in the world in order to set them right. War photographers’ job, their calling was so unequivocally good, so worthy, I could not see how anyone could doubt their motives or dispute their goals, or aspire to do anything else with photography. These people deserved statues. As I grew older, I realized more and more how ineffectual war reporting has become. Bad things continue to happen despite all these efforts to make the world aware. The statistics prove it. 106 journalists died last year, and the only photographer really remembered is Tim Hetherington.
And amidst all the beautifully penned obituaries, eulogies, awards, criticisms and still raging wars, one poignant moment really brought painfully home to me the impact of Hetherington’s death on his friends and family, as the death of Hondros and all these 106 nameless others must have impacted on theirs. When organizer and photographer Colin McPherson opened Look ’11, a photography festival in Liverpool, he struggled with his tears and stammered out an incoherent but touching tribute to his dearly missed friend.
That is the price of war photography.