As the world knows by now, the photographers Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington were killed on April 20 in Misurata, Libya. Hetherington was the better known of the two for his documentary, Restrepo. But we have a special feeling for Hondros, whom we got to meet when he took part in a CJR panel discussion. In late 2006, for our forty-fifth anniversary issue, the magazine ran an extended oral history, which later became a book, Reporting Iraq, an oral history of the war by the journalists who covered it. It included photos, and every time we laid our potential choices out we were drawn to Hondros’s work. They had a recognizable humanity and an almost-beautiful light, even when they depicted the worst. One photo we chose was taken moments after a family car had been accidently shot up at a checkpoint. We see a soldier and a blood-covered little girl who had just lost her parents, not an image you can quickly get out of your head. When Judith Matloff interviewed Hondros for our history, we found the backstory of that photo so compelling that we used it to end the book. Here is the result of that interview, Chris Hondros on how he got that picture:
There was a particular incident that happened on January 18, 2005, up in Tal Afar in the north of Iraq. I got out there on Saturday, and they wanted me to go out [on an embed] on this mission they had going out on Sunday. The next day, we went on a routine patrol. I got with one unit that seemed to be pretty good: the Apache company. They were pretty press-friendly, these guys, and we went on a walking patrol in downtown Tal Afar, just in the middle of the afternoon, handing out flyers supporting the upcoming election and all that. And sure enough, in the middle of the afternoon we got into a firefight. They got ambushed a little bit — a few shots were fired, and before they knew it they were surrounded, and they were firing out, they were firing in — dramatic, hourlong gun-battle in downtown Tal Afar. And because none of their guys were injured, and they basically came back, they were all exhilarated, and I had all these dramatic pictures, and they liked them. Then Monday I just hung around the base. The mortar guys, the guys who fire the long-range mortars, they were just firing a few mortars — I took some pictures of that, nothing special.
And then finally on Tuesday, the same guys — the Apache guys who were in the firefight — were going out on a late afternoon patrol. So I said, “All right, I’ll go on that.” But they got delayed. So finally at six we went out, and it was the same kind of thing, a little smaller, like a small group of twenty men or so, patrolling. And it was also dark by this point. So they’re out on the streets, and it’s after the curfew, which is about six o’clock. And as we were patrolling on a darkened boulevard, in the distance, a car, maybe a hundred yards down at least, turned onto the boulevard and started coming toward us. And I already had a bad feeling, you know? Because these are camouflaged [soldiers]; they don’t patrol regularly, and they don’t call much attention to themselves, because if they have lights and sirens and things like that they’d be seen or easily attacked. So here’s a bunch of testy men with guns running around and a car coming towards them, and they don’t let cars come toward them.