Chris Hondros, Testament
Chris Hondros, Testament
Chris Hondros was lost to us much too soon.
The Chris Hondros Fund was created shortly after his death on April 20, 2011, while on assignment covering the conflict in Misurata, Libya. It was a tragic day for photojournalism, as Tim Hetherington was killed in the same mortar attack by Libyan government troops.
"Testament" is much more than a retrospective of Chris Hondros' work. Entering the container gallery at Photoville over the last two weekends, the simple exhibit of prints, large and stark on the walls, unframed and attached to the walls by simple magnets, made the content stand out even more. As a viewer, nothing else mattered but the image. As we walked through, Chris' voice came through speakers sitting on the floor. The presentation was effective. Listening to Chris describe his philosophy in his own words gives us all a unique insight into one of the premier "conflict" photographers of our generation.
On Saturday, September 27th, in a panel talk sponsored by Luminescence, four of his friends and colleagues introduced us to Chris Hondros in an intimate description of the artist, journalist, and true artisan of our industry.
Todd Heisler, friend and board member of the Chris Hondros Fund, led the hour long presentation. Pancho Bernasconi, Vice President for Editorial Imagery at Getty, was one of Chris' lead proponents at the agency. Sandy Ciric is Getty's Director of Photography and edited many of Chris' images from Iraq and other war zones. Mario Tama is a staff photographer for Getty who worked in Iraq and other locations with Chris and helped bring the Chris Hondros Fund to life. All four worked together to bring "Testament" to life as a book and a traveling exhibit of 21 prints that bring Chris' work to the forefront.
"Chris had a gift to connect with his subjects in a way that not many of us have," said Bernasconi. "He could work in situations that many could not. He had a way of using every inch of the frame. He knew exactly what he wanted you to see."
Hondros felt it was his duty to show this emotion and brutality to the world and document what governments condoned, whether good or bad, whether you believed in it or not. Photojournalists have an almost sacred duty. And Hondros stressed this to younger photographers like Mario Tama, who felt mentored by him on his first trip to Iraq.
"When we looked through his hard drives, it was incredible," said Tama. "Where most of us had so-so images leading to one great image, Chris had these images that were all amazing. When you looked at the entire take of the images from Tal Afar where he captured one of his iconic images of the Iraq War, every image that led to it was an amazing image."
"I felt like Chris was there as we worked on Testament," said Sandy Ciric. "I could hear his voice in my head telling me why the pictures were important."
And they are.
The impact he had on the industry will continue through the Chris Hondros Fund. Established by Christina Piaia, Chris Hondross fiance, and with the support of his family, the Chris Hondros Fund advances the work of photojournalists who espouse his legacy and vision. The fund sponsors fellowships, grantmaking and education to raise understanding of the issues facing reporters in conflict zones. Piaia, together with Getty Images Vice President for Editorial Imagery Pancho Bernasconi and New York Times Photographer Todd Heisler, serve on the board of The Chris Hondros Fund.
Chris Hondros covered most of the world's major conflicts since the late 1990s, including wars in Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the West Bank, Iraq, and Liberia. Hondros received dozens of awards, including multiple honors from World Press Photo in Amsterdam, the International Pictures of the Year Competition, the Visa Pour L'Image in France, and the John Faber award from the Overseas Press Club. Hondros was a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news photography: in 2004, for his work in Liberia, and posthumously in 2012, for his coverage of the Arab Spring, and in 2006 he won the Robert Capa Gold Medal, war photography's highest honor, for his work in Iraq.
The Columbia Journalism Review has a compelling interview with Chris Hondros describing the night in Tal Afar when he photographed an event that would change his life and change American military policy. It recounts the events that climaxed with Chris' photograph of 6-year-old Samar Hassan, bloodied and weeping after her parents were killed by US soldiers when they failed to stop at a checkpoint. After the incident in this photograph, Paul Wolfowitz invited Hondros to have lunch at the Pentagon, to discuss the situation. Wolfowitz apparently wanted to know what the military could do to avoid this type of carnage in the future.
"One of the ongoing themes in my work, I hope, and one of the things I believe in, is a sense of human nature, a sense of shared humanity above the cultural layers we place on ourselves [which don't] mean that much compared to the human experience."