image I write with shock and sadness over yesterday’s deaths of Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington in Libya. In February, Tim showed his short film DIARY at STF and gave a thoughtful discussion afterward. We met only a few times, so others can testify to his career better than me. But I knew Chris for many years and want to add a few thoughts.

The New York Times Lens blog has published a tribute that does a fine job of getting Chris’ attributes, the way he defied the cliches of war reporting as a person. He was level-headed, neither cynical nor indulgently romantic about his profession. He took a long view of history as the son of European immigrants who had memories of WWII. He was very good with words which you can hear in his NPR interview or read in his articles. Those pieces were often written for small publications or blogs, less for career advancement than for the urge to contribute as an eyewitness. Chris had earned the security of employment at Getty Images, but he took great pleasure in side projects like setting images to music for small performances.

He was my favorite dinner companion, possessing a rare perspective on what’s happening in the world, but also a good listener. He was quick-witted. He liked teaching. He took interest in other people’s work. One of his last Facebook messages was to congratulate colleagues who had won awards.

He didn’t have the self-destructive bent that characterizes some war reporters. He could plan ahead. We were plotting an event in Toronto this June to show his Tahrir Square photos. He was going to get married in August. Outsiders might consider his whole profession foolhardy. But I think he considered it a privilege, albeit a dangerous one. He told an interviewer, “you see humanity at its worst, but to me it’s balanced by the fact that you also see humanity at its best. I’ve seen such examples of courage and human generosity.”

The urge to make sense of his death risks its own cliches of grandiosity. If Chris had a choice of where to die, I’m sure he wouldn’t have picked Misurata – a place so remote that newspapers can’t even agree on its spelling. While it may be obscure to us, for others it’s home where hundreds of Libyans have been killed in recent weeks. Chris, Tim and their colleagues were attempting to tell that story. Perhaps we don’t like the story – it doesn’t contain the right heroes or feel destined for a happy ending. But, still, there are lives at stake of people who are as dear to their families as Chris was to me. Why wouldn’t that be a story worth telling?

If you pressed Chris about the danger of his job, he’d point out that no one gets to pick where he dies. Or when. So just hunker down, do your best work and try to leave something of lasting value. That’s what he did.

  • Todd Holteta

    Thom, Chris and I spent 4 years of home room and a couple of German classes together. He was the first guy I met at Terry Sanford (that I did already know as he went to another middle school. We laughed for 4 years and after college would have a beer or three at a local pub called the Highlander. And although I haven’t seen him in a few years I followed his work through his pictures and along with other Fayetteville natives and classmates on FB. Your words ring true. I will remember his smile and his work ethic. He was truly a unique soul and I find it hard to explain why it has hit me so hard. I sum it like this. Several years ago when my life seemed to be falling apart I ran into him in Fayetteville. He seemed to know that I was going through something and he said “Hey Holtet, let’s get beer.” Sadly we didn’t. But I have remembered that day for a long time. You just don’t get the chance too have friends like that in your life very often. He will be missed. Thank you for your words..

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  • hejingjoy

    While it may be obscure to us, for others it’s home where hundreds of Libyans have been killed in recent weeks. Chris, Tim and their colleagues were attempting to tell that story.
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  • fairytale

    Almost every soldier in Iraq has been involved in some sort of incident like that or another, I would say. Their attitude about it was grim, but it wasn’t the end of their world. It was, “Well, kind of wished they’d stopped. We fired warning shots. Damn, I don’t know why the hell they didn’t stop. What’re you doing later, you want to play Nintendo? Okay.” Just a day’s work for them. That stuff happens in Iraq a lot.
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