Outside magazine called over a month ago to ask if I would interview a photographer for their summer interview issue. I immediately pitched them Tim Hetherington whose work I admired although I’d never met or spoken with him before. The body of work he created in Afghanistan was so vast and varied, including an award winning Oscar nominated documentary (Restrepo), plus he’d made some outlandish statements like “forget photography” in the press that I just knew he was blazing new trails for photographers and photojournalism in particular.
When I emailed to setup the interview he said it needed to happen immediately, because he was going to Libya. After what he survived in Afghanistan and previous conflicts it never crossed my mind that Libya would be his last. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:
ROB HAGGART: Hey, Tim, how are you?
TIM HETHERINGTON: Rob, I’m very well, man.
Good. Did you find a way into Libya?
Ah, I’m still trying to work out what to do. I mean, I’ve got a potential way in, but—I mean the thing is, the situation is moving so fast it’s very hard to know whether it’s a good call or not.
That’s the main thing at the moment.
And do you have an assignment or are you just going to go?
Yeah, it’s like a top-shelf documentary film. A director who I know who—and I said I wanted to go in. The problem is, unlike making still photographs, you don’t know what you’ll get in this kind of situation.
When it’s so fast moving, it’s very hard to structure a kind of narrative. It’s difficult to find characters—you know what I mean? I have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s like a complete fishing trip, so it’s also, like, not wanting to—for them back in New York, the director—for them to understand clearly that that’s what it is.
Right, they probably don’t understand that or maybe just basing it on your previous documentaries, right?
I just don’t want to set myself up for them thinking that they’re going to get something and then they don’t, because it’s impossible—it may be impossible to do what they want out of that. No second chances— like it’s so fast moving, it’s pretty crazy what’s going on. In terms of the government moving very close to Benghazi and who knows whether Benghazi is going to fall or whether the rebels will counter-attack or whether Gaddafi will buy people out in the town, you know what I mean?
Great read, very moving knowing what is going to happen, and for some reason, I feel lucky to be following you and your blog. I also feel ashamed of that feeling, “lucky.” Please do not take that comment for more than it is or as drama. It is just a human feeling that does not compare to the life and creativity of Tim.
Thank you Rob.
What a tragic loss of Tim and Chris. But what a gain to have had them around to create and share – to risk all, to immerse themselves in conflicts and hardship and to live life fuller as a result. Their legacy lives on in powerful, poignant images and stories. Today could be the last day for any of us –
Thanks Rob, great interview as usual. Great insight into what Tim want to achieve. We have lost a very insightful photographer.
Joao Silva and Greg Marinovich on war photography and ethics, interview by Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” : http://www.npr.org/player/v2/mediaPlayer.html?action=1&t=1&islist=false&id=135513724&m=135599392
transcript excerpts at http://www.npr.org/2011/04/21/135513724/two-war-photographers-on-their-injuries-ethics
Sad. Very very sad.
I talked about Tim’s death today in class, as an illustration of how dangerous it is to be a photojournalist in a war zone.
Indeed a very tragic loss for his family and friends, and the wider photo. community. His work will long live on; we’re forever deprived of seeing what was next from him; a telling comment in the Outside interview.. “was also me trying to understand my own fascination with violence. It was as much a journey about my identity as it was about those soldiers.”
To me he seemed about revelation, not only of his identity but a deeper perspective on our inner selves, by changing traditional ways of getting at the real truth, and obviously risking his all to do that.
Tim Hetherington’s “Diary” (2010):
In today’s L.A. times: “On the Media: War photographers change their focus” by James Rainey
“With a death of two beloved photojournalists this week in an apparent mortar attack in Libya, a scrim of sadness and doubt fell around the cadre of shooters who rush headlong to the world’s trouble spots. The seemingly invincible Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were suddenly gone.
Some photographers pulled back from their work. Others vowed they would stay in the game but change their personal rules of engagement. Many revisited their worst misgiving — that no matter how many times they risk their lives, much of the public can’t be bothered with misery in far-off places.
I have talked a lot over the years to war photographers about their work. But I had to wonder this week when it becomes too much. In several interviews, some of the best visual artists of this generation talked about how they realized it was time to step away. They’re still focused on conflict but in different ways…”
[…] to leaving for Libya, Hetherington talked with Rob Haggart (A Photo Editor) in what would be his last […]
i just spent the afternoon digging through outside’s interview issue and i feel compelled to say that the hetherington interview is outstanding. why so? …the remarkable subject and the circumstances, of course. but beyond that, and of no small importance: the questions the interviewer asked that set mr. hetherington up to share what he did. thanks so much for this.