Local News

Family: Photojournalist had 'the eye' early

Posted April 21, 2011 12:13 p.m. EDT
Updated April 22, 2011 6:34 a.m. EDT

— Photographer Chris Hondros started his career at his hometown newspaper, the Fayetteville Observer, but he always had his sights on the world, his family said.

Hondros, 41, a graduate of Terry Sanford High School in Fayetteville and North Carolina State University, was killed Wednesday by a rocket-propelled grenade in the western Libyan city of Misrata.

British-born Tim Hetherington, the Oscar-nominated co-director of the documentary "Restrepo" about U.S. soldiers on an outpost in Afghanistan, was also killed in the attack, and two other photojournalists were wounded while covering battles between rebels and government forces.

Hondros was a decorated conflict photographer whose work had appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post. He was working for Getty Images based in New York City at the time of his death.

His mother, Inge Hondros, said that, when trouble flared in Libya, there was never a question that her son would go.

"I said, 'Be careful ... I know you want a good picture, but sometimes a good picture is not worth your life,'" she said Thursday. "I guess that's what happened."

The Washington Post reported that the journalists had gone with rebel fighters to Tripoli Street in the center of Misrata, the scene of the some of the most intense recent fighting in the city.

After an ambulance rushed Hetherington and Guy Martin to a triage tent, an American photographer whose bulletproof vest was splattered with blood implored the drivers to go back for more victims, the Post reported.

Hetherington was bleeding heavily from his leg and died about 15 minutes after he reached the triage facility, while Hondros died after suffering a severe brain injury from shrapnel, the Post reported.

The two other photographers – Martin, a Briton affiliated with the Panos photo agency, and Michael Christopher Brown – were treated for shrapnel wounds, doctors said.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's forces have intensified their weeks-long assault on Libya's third-largest city, firing tank shells and rockets into residential areas, according to witnesses and human rights groups. NATO commanders have admitted their airpower is limited in being able to protect civilians in a city – the core mission of the international air campaign.

On Thursday, the bodies of Hetherington and Hondros were being taken to the de facto rebel capital of Benghazi aboard the Ionian Spirit, a ferry boat that had arrived in Misrata the day before carrying food and medicine and was taking out hundreds of Libyans and foreigners fleeing the city. In Benghazi, representatives from the United States and Britain were to take custody of the bodies to arrange their evacuation from Libya.

The two wounded photojournalists remained in Misrata's hospital. While Brown was up and walking in good condition, Martin remained in an ICU, though his condition had improved after extension surgery for wounds in his leg.

Hetherington, 40, was killed a day after he tweeted: "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO."

"Tim was in Libya to continue his ongoing multimedia project to highlight humanitarian issues during time of war and conflict," Hetherington's family said in a statement. "He will be forever missed."

Hondros had covered conflict zones since the late 1990s, capturing clutching, jeering and fearful moments from wars including Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. One front-page New York Times photo from 2007 showed a Humvee patrol in Iraq from a different angle: The ruddy hands of an Iraqi interpreter and a pair of muddied boots belonging to a gunner.

"He has an intimacy in his work," said Swayne Hall, a longtime friend who works as a photo editor with The Associated Press. "Some people will use a long lens, so they don't have to get up close. But Chris will get up close. He's just not afraid to be with whatever he's photographing."

His brother, Dean, recalled Thursday how Hondros honed his technique. "Sometimes, he would take me outside and say, 'Run, then jump,' and he would put the camera at different speeds to see what effect it had," he said.

Hondros dedicated himself to a craft that has a unique emotional impact, his brother said.

"He can bring an emotion out of a scene like no one else," Dean Hondros said. "You can really tell what's going in that situation with that still photography.

"A photograph just has something intrinsic to it that makes it unique from video or words."