On April 20, 2011, photojournalist Chris Hondros, 41, was killed while on assignment in Misrata, Libya, after suffering a fatal brain injury. The Getty Images staff photographer was covering the uprising when a rocket-propelled grenade struck, also killing fellow photographer and Oscar-nominated filmmaker of “Restrepo,” Tim Hetherington.
Hondros, a veteran conflict photographer, was posthumously named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer in breaking news photography on April 16. His fiancée, Christina Piaia, said soon after the announcement that the news was bittersweet.
“I can see his smile in my head,” Piaia said, imagining his response to the award. “He would have been quite humbled and honored. … I wish he was here to hear the news himself.”
He was also awarded the Robert Capa Gold Medal in 2005 and was a 2004 Pulitzer Prize nominee.
“He was dedicated to telling the story,” said Sandy Ciric, Hondros' photo editor for eight years at Getty Images.
However, Hondros didn’t stop at sharing the obvious. Part of every war – often a hidden aspect – are the unwilling victims of conflict, especially children, Ciric said. Hondros’ lens gravitated toward them.
Piaia said that while he didn’t have any children of his own, Hondros talked about the children in his images often.
“For children in Afghanistan, war is the only life they know,” she said. “He thought a lot about that – about what it will be for the rest of their lives.” And while many people might assume children maintain their innocence, Hondros saw the amount of awareness these children had, Piaia said. In the heart of a conflict is a child being greatly affected.
In addition to ongoing hostilities, he also wanted to “cover civil society and people affected by the conflict,” Ciric said.
In an exhibition of his work in 2010, Hondros explained his vision.
“Always I try to keep my work focused on the people most affected in these conflicts – the Iraqis and Afghans themselves - caught in the cauldron of post-9/11 geopolitics, and of the American servicemen and women sent into harm’s way in these exotic lands.”
Most conflict photographers themselves are affected by constantly covering war-torn areas, and Hondros seemed no exception. But it was uplifting for him to see the innocence of a child through a sweet smile or a friendly wave, Ciric said.
But beyond successfully covering stories through powerful images and even helping make policy changes to military checkpoints, Hondros was a dedicated and giving person. He often mentored young photographers.
“He was a natural teacher, nicknamed ‘The Professor,’ ” Ciric said. Some photojournalist students are even writing their theses about him. “He influenced a lot of younger photographers, and that’s part of his legacy.”
He wasn’t a daredevil, she continued. He planned methodically and knew to be cautious. He had a healthy amount of fear. But he also had conviction knowing the story needed to be told. And in the case of Libya, he gave his life to show the injustices happening to the people.
“I miss him,” Ciric said, who worked with Hondros for 11 years total. “He was a really special person.”
- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN