April 25, 2011
Remembering Chris Hondros, Part I
Misrata, Libya: April 19, 2011. Photograph by Nicole Tung
Chris was a courageous, impassioned, talented photographer. He was also a kind, humble and giving man with an entertaining and wonderful sense of humor. He was often the sharpest dresser in a war zone. His fellow photographers, dressed in dirty jeans and T-shirts, liked to tease him about his famous tweed and corduroy jackets. It’s a small but telling example of how separate and unique he was when compared to the clichéd image of a war photographer.
You could be a guest at one of his great parties, listening to him tell a funny story while he was mixing one of his famous cocktails, then a moment later hear his views on politics and world history with the earnestness of a diplomat. And if you hung around and were lucky enough, he might treat you with a Brahms piano concerto. Of course, he would always say that his playing was rusty, but that was him, being humble.
Shot on a point-and-shoot camera, this short video clip, the only one I have of him in more than 12 years of friendship, is from Iraq on the first day of the invasion in 2003.
Chris bequeaths a tremendous photographic legacy, but sadly and more importantly, he leaves behind so many who loved him so much — his family, his fiancé, his friends, his colleagues. He will be sorely missed.
Chris was an endangered species in photojournalism, an intellectual. His bookshelves were filled with everything from Rimbaud to George Soros. He was a romantic and an impassioned journalist who tread where most fear to walk. I was forever replacing Chris in war zones around the globe for Getty Images. Monrovia, Baghdad, Beirut and Kabul were just a few. A quick drink, a pat on the back, and the baton was passed. I was to replace him next week in Libya, a rotation I so wished was going to happen. I will forever remember him with tears and laughs.
Nicole Tung, writing from Misrata, Libya:
This is very difficult to write… the loss is so immense, so deep.
I want you to know that Chris was not in pain when he passed. He was resuscitated twice and was hanging onto life by a thread, in a coma. He was wearing a helmet and a vest at the time it happened, but even that couldn’t help the injury he sustained and he lost a lot of brain tissue on the way to the hospital.
I spent a long while in the Intensive Care Unit alone with Chris, holding his hand and listening to the beeping of the ventilator, and watching the little numbers on the screen. I watched his face and wanted so much to see him open his eyes even if they were swollen shut. Chris, Chris…please…please pull through, pull through, please, just come through, for us, for Christina.
Then they wouldn’t let me stay longer in the ICU; I went to the port to make sure Tim’s remains made it safely onto the boat headed to Benghazi. His body was in a truck idling by the pier. There was a Ukrainian doctor in there too who was killed earlier in the day. The vessel was about to leave… and then, the call came in. Chris was dead and they were bringing him. An hour later the ambulance arrived. It stopped next to the still idling truck and the doctor came out and read from a piece of paper: “This is Chris Hondros’s body.”
I remember how hard the wind blew that night, and how cold it felt. They placed Chris next to Tim, closed the truck doors and drove slowly, creeping into the ship. The truck stopped where I could still see it, just at the entrance of the hold. And the gates started to close, ever so slowly: a slow mourning.
Good-bye; it was a brief farewell for their journey out to sea and peace. I don’t even know where to begin the goodbyes. We are all grieving together and I hope we pull through, for Chris, for what he stood for and for all those things he said or did to make us laugh. I remember that smile of his now and I miss it so much. Friend, mentor, fellow trouble maker; I miss him so much. Here’s to Chris. Here’s to the peace that he finds.
Photographer Michael Christopher Brown, wounded in the attack which killed Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, recovering at the hospital and comforted by friend and colleague Katie Orlinsky. Misrata, Libya: April 21, 2011. Photograph by Nicole Tung.
Nicole, your note was very painful to read, very hard to get through. I do feel it brings a quiet peace as we try and deal with such heartbreaking pain. When I found out Chris had been wounded I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. When I found out that he had died, something irreplaceable was taken from me, from all of us. Empty.
Each of us has our own personal memories of Chris, which can never be taken away. I’m grateful for mine and will cherish them forever.
I’ve often felt that being a photojournalist traveling to far away and troubled places was one of the loneliest things anyone could subject themselves to voluntarily. We know sometimes that’s required to make photographs which matter. It allows us to have empathy and compassion for the people we photograph. But I am grateful to know that this was one time Chris did not have to be alone. Knowing that he had friends by his side as he prepared for his next journey will help us move forward, processing an enormous tragedy.
Five days ago, photographers Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed by an exploding mortar shell or rocket-propelled grenade fired by Qaddafi forces on the front line in the besieged city of Misrata, Libya. Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown were wounded and survived.
We are publishing a series of remembrances and reflections of Chris.
Please make a donation to The Chris Hondros Fund, which will provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography:
The Chris Hondros Fund
c/o Christina Piaia
50 Bridge Street, No. 414
Brooklyn, New York 11201