April 21st, 2011
12:46 AM ET

Bergen: Hetherington was 'the real deal'

Editor's note: Peter Bergen reflects on the life of his friend Tim Hetherington who was killed Wednesday in Libya.

Related: Two photographers killed in Libya

Filed under: 360º Follow • Peter Bergen
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  1. Verena Radulovic

    Tim Hetherington was my favorite photographer, who I first saw speak this past November. I had not heard of him at the time, but since then have studied almost every aspect of his work and it has had a profound impact on me, both in his subject matter and the way in which he approached telling a story.

    Hetherington covered mostly war and its impacts on society, from US marines in Afghanistan to rebel soldiers in Liberia to a school for the blind in Sierra Leone caught up in the backdrop of civil war. He imbued his images, either moving or still, with compassion and humanity. He focused almost exclusively on long term projects so that he could fully convey to his audience the layers and nuances that undergird complex emergencies in broken war-torn societies– nuances and details that usually never make it into the soundbites on the evening news, but ones that we long to understand in order to make sense of the bits and pieces of information that the mass media feed us.

    He was also effective because he used various forms of media – long format film, short format clips, still images and narrative, to reach the widest audience he could.

    Hearing him speak in person confirmed his eloquence. We all have a "collective image library in our heads when we think of a particular issue," he said. In his work, he sought to break down any preconceived ideas that often limit our ability to relate to other humans. And he documented reality in photos and video that, in the case of Liberia, was often the only evidence that could shed light on war crimes committed there. He used his talents not just to communicate to Western audiences what was happening in Africa, but his work was used within the local African communities themselves to influence perceptions.

    So, yesterday the world lost a very special and talented individual. I saw the news at around 5pm and let out an audible yelp from my desk, prompting a "what's wrong?!" from my colleague over the cube wall. I was upset into the evening, but couldn't figure out why I was deeply grieving a person with whom I had only come into very limited contact. I finally pinpointed it. It's because I found a guiding inspiration to my owen work as a documentary photographer and I wasn't done learning from him. And he was just getting started, it seemed.

    One thing haunts me. I remember keeping my hand raised during the Q&A session where I first heard him speak. He finally nodded in my direction and I was granted the last question.

    ME: "So, how do you avoid getting killed or injured while still being right there in the midst of the war zone?"
    TH: "Well, I've been a war photographer for a long time, over 10 years, so I have learned how to handle myself in conflict... But in the end, it's a numbers game."

    And yesterday, very sadly, his number was up.

    April 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm |