Tragedy in Pictures

Yesterday in Libya two acclaimed photographers were killed as they covered the war between those loyal to al-Qaddafi and those who, among other things, want al-Qaddafi to go.  Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros are apparently well-respected photojournalists.  I don’t know their work intimately but I’m sure I’ve seen a picture or two or five from each of them while reading news articles.  The LENS blog from the New York Times posted parting glances of each man’s work (here and here) and I got an idea of why they are so respected (click the links to see the slideshows).  Particularly striking from among the ones chosen to represent Mr. Hetherington’s work is a 2005 image of a child in Liberia doing his homework under a streetlight.  That picture could be in any peaceful developed or underdeveloped country in any urban or rural area; it captured the human struggle and the humanity that connects us all.  I have seen children in Jamaica doing the same.  Mr. Hondros grabbed me with a 2005 picture of a young Iraqi girl crying, blood covering her hands and face and dotting the hem of her dress.  Her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers who fired on the car when it did not stop as demanded. (Why not shoot the tires and simply disable the car then question the occupants? Perhaps that is not logical behaviour when one is in a war zone.  But I digress.)

Mr. Hetherington directed last year’s much-talked about documentary “Restrepo.”  Restrepo followed some U.S. troops during their “grueling 14-month tour of duty in an especially dangerous part of Afghanistan.”  I haven’t seen it yet but I know it’s something I’ll eventually watch because war time footage fascinates me.  Many nights I am channel surfing and get stuck on the History and Military channels.  Those who fight in a war are, in my opinion, to be respected because their bravery is unparalleled.  Quibble with the whys of a war, the failures of diplomacy, the bloodlust or idiocy (or both) of leaders, but the troops and veterans deserve respect.

Anyway, the day before these photojournalists were killed I read an article about the 2011 Pulitzer Prize winners.   For the first time an award was given for “Breaking News Photography”; it went to Carol Guzy, Nikki Kahn and Ricky Carioti of The Washington Post for their coverage of the January 2010 EQ in Haiti.  Their photographs are gripping.  The one that stood out to me the most is of tears streaming down an old woman’s face…as it came up on my screen I gasped…felt so…profoundly sad

A Haitian woman cries after the January 2010 EQ.  The tragedy is etched on her face.

For the other pictures that earned the Washington Post’s photogs their Pulitzer click here.

I must admit that when I first read news of the deaths of Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Hondros I was a little annoyed…I wondered why they hell were they there? You’re not fighting, why are you there getting in the way? How much additional trouble is it going to be get their bodies out of that warzone?  But a voice – yes, I have those in my head – prodded me that people like Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Hondros are necessary.  They prove that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Pictures communicate in an instant what may be impossible to communicate with words. Tragedy in pictures.  I began thinking about other defining photographs I could recall from memory.  Sometimes they are war time pictures taken by distinguished people but others just capture a moment in  time that many will not forget.  There is this from 1995, which was also a TIME magazine cover

The 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing by Timothy McVeigh was devastating; 646 people died. The city building also housed a day care center and 6 children died.

I was home that  day of the OKC terrorist attack and Grandma called to check on me…still recall the shock I felt as I watched and described to her what was going on.  Then as now I cannot understand the evil that abides in some people.

From 2001

September 11, 2001. I was by then up and watching a house mate’s television. My boyfriend at the time called to wake me up after he’d been given instructions by his college to return home…he wanted to know if my dad was at work that day. I wondered why and then he explained. Instantly awake.

National Geographic’s iconic photograph (1984) of an Afghan girl as part of the coverage of war in Afghanistan…will that country ever know peace…

The “Afghan Girl.” She was found and identified in 2002. Her name is Sharbut Gula.

Hurricane Katrina, where folks were forgotten and became refugees in their own country

August 2005 – utter devastation, helplessness, and failure of those who needed help in the U.S. of A. New Orleans & areas in Mississippi (like Biloxi) are still recovering too…

I remember seeing images like this one on the TV and wondering why the hell (yes even at age 7) the birds were all black

March 24, 1989. The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spilled into the ocean, and many many gallons still remain. Thousands of seabirds and other wildlife died, and to this day the ecosystem is struggling to recover from the devastation.

Exxon Valdez held the record for the most gallons of oil spilled in U.S. waters until Deepwater Horizon‘s valve blew out.

April 2010: Three months have never seemed so long…

April 20, 2011 was the one year “anniversary” of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico…to say that recovery is ongoing in the Gulf is an understatement.  From the economic and societal disruption to the health effects and ecological disaster (I shudder at what the sea floor looks like) the true cost of the Deepwater blowout, like Exxon Valdez, will not be known for years.

Earth Day 2011 is celebrated on April 22 – tomorrow; go pick up some trash in your neighbourhood and remember to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Help Mother Earth out, she demands and deserves it.

9 Responses to “Tragedy in Pictures”
  1. Corve says:

    So sad to hear the news from Libya. Even worse when two foreign journalists are killed. I hope this will encourage others but also to have those who are leading this fight to end it as soon as possible.

    The fight for freedom….

    • Yes it is sad news from Libya. And today even more devastating news from Syria…and somehow I don’t think no news from Yemen and Bahrain is good news. Freedom fighters need a voice and often photographers like the ones who died were that voice…brave of them to go there and share the images with us.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Shumpynella says:

    Great post. Those images get right to the heart of it. Tragic moments in American hx that I won’t soon forget.

  3. Emma Lewis says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I was planning a post on my own blog about the incredible work and the sheer (probably slightly crazy) bravery of photo-journalists. “Restrepo” is really worth watching, HBO showed it recently, very powerful and moving. What inspires me about people like Tom Hetherington is their sheer humanity and the way they bring out the humanity of their subjects. There are really no boundaries. “Life” magazine was a ground-breaking publication that pioneered photo-journalism, but is sadly no more. Nevertheless, some of these photos – like the Afghan girl – are almost instant, enduring “classics.” By the way, Hetherington did a lot of work with Human Rights Watch, so there was that important component to his work too.

    • You’re welcome, Emma. They are indeed brave and perhaps a tad crazy but what an incredible job these men and others do. I remember “Life” magazine and it was fantastic…I wonder if back issues are available; for some reason I associate them with images from the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

      The “Afghan Girl” is a penetrating photograph….gets me every time, as does the OKC firefighter & child. O thanks for the info on Hetherington! Knowing now of his association with Human Rights Watch the photos I’ve seen make that much more sense. Looking forward to seeing “Restrepo” as well…one of the photos in the LENS post was of an absolutely exhausted and frightened U.S. soldier that pulled at me so I want to see what else the documentary captures.

  4. Ms. Nikks says:

    The memories are still so fresh of all these disasters, both natural and man made. The world really is a bittersweet place isn’t it. We’re capable of such goodness, but then we only see that when it’s too late.

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Tragedy in Pictures (April) – Every so often world events that ostensibly have no connection to life to the countries where I either have lived or live now make a profound mark on me.  The events in North Africa and the Middle East that began in late 2010 and are still going on is an example of that.  This post was sparked by the death of 2 acclaimed photojournalists – those people who often share with us the horrors we can’t even imagine.  Meanwhile, events continue to unfold in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, and of course Egypt and Syria.  For now, Tunisia where it all began is calm; they’ve had elections and a democratically elected government…so far, so good for them and I hope it continues and is the norm for its neighbours.  Democracy may not be perfect but I believe it’s the best system of government that we have…gotta work with it! […]

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