On Easter Sunday in 2011, an American Airlines plane landed in New York with the body of Chris Hondros, one of the most accomplished war photographers of his generation.
Hondros was photographing Libyan rebel forces in the coastal town of Misrata when he was fatally wounded by a mortar attack that also killed fellow photojournalist Tim Hetherington.
To many in the business, the loss of Hondros was profound: With the approach of a naturalist and a keen eye for storytelling, Hondros engaged us in places, conflicts and stories that would otherwise be inaccessible and even irrelevant to most people.
“He was a committed storyteller who held a mirror to the world we didn’t want to see. ... That voice is missing, and it is hard,” said Pancho Bernasconi, vice president and director of photography at Getty Images.
Bernasconi, along with Hondros’ fiancée, Christina Piaia, and Getty colleague Alexandra Ciric, searched through Hondros’ archives to curate some of his most emblematic photos, focusing on his gift for narrative.
The photos form the book “Testament,” which will go on sale Tuesday, April 8, through powerHouse Books.
“There are certain moments that define him and his work," Bernasconi said."He filled every frame, and (his photos) didn’t give you a break. His photos really demanded your attention.”
“Testament” takes us through many of the world’s most dangerous conflicts. From Iraq to the civil war in Liberia, from oil fields in Nigeria and Angola to Afghanistan, these photos seek to humanize people who live in conflict zones - a contrast to the morass of victims often portrayed on television or public relations campaigns.
“He got very close,” Bernasconi said. “Chris was a runner and he was fit. It’s not that he would run behind fighters, it’s that being in the field ... you have to stay in shape.”
That athleticism came in handy when photographing the random chaos in Liberia’s civil war. In this series, we get a sense of his vibrant relationship with the fighters he photographed.
“In Liberia, you saw who he was going to become as a photographer,” Bernasconi said.
Moving on to Iraq, Hondros’ photos remind us of our skewed idea of what is really happening in a conflict the United States was so heavily invested in.
Looking through a window of a U.S. Army armored vehicle, there is a claustrophobic feeling as if we, the viewers, were caged by limited contact with civilians.
The vehicle appears to be moving against the movement of women and children passing by. It is an awkward equation between us and them
“Missing even from months of staring at ‘Humvee TV’ is any real information on why Iraq is the way it is,” Hondros wrote. “The view provides few answers though it asks many questions: What are those students learning when they get to school? Is that woman a Sunni or Shia? Who ordered that road crew to repair that street? “
These simple questions — rarely asked due to the demands of our fast-pace news industry — are reflected upon Hondros’ images.
“He was an intellectual ... always so curious about the world around him,” Bernasconi said. “And he was a gentle person, with a great deal of empathy.”
- Helena Cavendish de Moura, Special to CNN