Remembering Chris Hondros
On Wednesday I sat in the Milligan College dining hall in spring-time Tennessee and, while munching salad, scrolled through headlines on my laptop. Clicking one that said "photojournalists killed in Libya" I read the first paragraph, which made my food lose its taste. By the time I reached the bottom of the article the world itself felt different, like a chunk had just been hacked out of it, violently and irrevocably, and knocked into oblivion. Chris Hondros was dead.
Funny thing is, I didn't know Chris personally, and the only words I had spoken to him were kind of dumb. In the chaos of Cairo's Tahrir Square on February 2, I saw a photographer crouched by a curb who i think was Chris. He was photographing a weary man who had just been bandaged up after having a rock slam into his face. "Good idea," I told the quiet photographer as I waited to also photograph the man. As Chris got up and I got down, our eyes met for a second. And that, I think, is the extent of my encounter with a man whose work I had appreciated for years and who was now dead in the Libyan city of Misrata, his body to be loaded onto a ship bound for Benghazi and then eventually shipped back home.
In Frederick Buechner's book Godric, the main character says of a dead loved one: "It's like a tune that ends before you've heard it out." That's how I felt about Chris' death -- and that of Tim Hetherington, who had also died in Misrata. I respected their work, the stories they wanted to share with the world, the images they brought home to us. I mean, look at this image of an Iraqi girl, and hear Chris tell the story behind it.
The world is not whole. Ask the man in the photo who got hit by a rock in a downtown square where others would die of their injuries. Ask Chris, if you could, and he'd tell you about child soldiers in Liberia, or a mother with hacked-off hands holding her baby in Sierra Leone. Ask Libyans living in Misrata right now, or those who carried the bodies of two dead photographers to a ship.
What is the world? Here's a partial answer: It's a place with chunks ripped away, and where many tunes end before we've heard them out.
For a little more about Chris Hondros and his images, see the New York Times Lens blog's "Parting Glance: Chris Hondros".