On Wednesday, April 20, Tim Hetherington, a highly decorated photojournalist and war photographer was tragically killed while photographing the front lines in the city of Misrata during Libya’s ongoing civil war. A mortar, or rocket propelled grenade, fired by pro-Qaddafi forces exploded in the vicinity of a group of photographers mortally wounding Hetherington and inflicting severe head trauma on Chris Hondros, another photographer, who later succumbed to his injuries. Hetherington covered conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and other countries. He is best known for co-directing the 2010 documentary Restrepo, which won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. Restrepo followed the men of 2nd Platoon of Battle Company on a 15-month deployment in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan.
It was an area described as “the deadliest place on earth” (stated in the documentary, trailers and television commercials on the National Geographic Channel). Hetherington’s and Sebastian Junger’s video footage of Restrepo presents the battles, the death and the lives of the men of outpost Restrepo, without any form of political commentary or narration making it the closest, most vivid portrayal of the continuing war in Afghanistan.
The death of Hetherington is shocking, yet not unexpected. He put himself in harms way for a love of storytelling and bringing to light the atrocities of the world that need to be seen. That was his career, going where no one should want to be. Yet he did and his incredible images will survive even when his legacy may not.
This is the inevitable betrayal of the news and media. The story dies once it’s alive. For an instant all eyes turn, but just as quickly readjust and focus again and again. On Friday his name was barely mentioned and on the next Monday he’d disappeared.
But Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros shouldn’t be forgotten. Journalists are the sages of history and, unfortunately their presence is taken for granted and expendable. No person in their right mind should commit themselves to recording atrocities, let alone making repeated visits to war zones and surviving.
Their bravery and resolve is what tells the world what goes on. If one day reporters simply did not exist, how would anyone be capable of capturing lucid, chronological data and powerful discussions with people? A journalist, a good one, with a soul of objectivity, daring, luck and talent will break to people, and always will, moments in history that changed the world.
They will never be forgotten.