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Tribute to Chris Hondros, who ventured far with his torch

Chris Hondros, Carolyn Cole, a rebel fighter, and the author in Liberia. (Courtesy Nic Bothma)

My dear friend Chris.

In the silence, I hear the symphony of memories that was your life as I knew it. I see your waving hand gestures and wry smile as you recount stories whilst we sit together in the tropical Liberian heat discussing everything from classical music to aperture priority. My heart and mind keep seeing you, hearing you, and struggling to believe you have moved on.

Slideshow: Images of life, death

Words and pictures seem so insignificant in the face of your departure. But the words and pictures are all we have now, so I share these and a few words about how you touched my life and the lives of so, so many.

We met on the frontline of Liberia's civil war in 2003 and have been friends ever since. I guess if it wasn't for war, I probably would never have met you. I am not a war photographer, but I understand what drove you to it again and again and what made you one of the very best there ever was. Crouched behind a wall with your wide lens framing a young fighter you turned to me and said, "You sure got in the swing of things!" Such reassuring words to hear having just arrived. You had already been there for weeks. I quickly realized that I was in the company of a master working with you. Kind, generous, and willing to share all the knowledge you had of photography, you displayed none of the clichés one would expect of a seasoned war photographer. I saw in you a true passion for your work beyond ones ego and need for recognition. You did it because it meant something. You believed in that and you loved it! You did it because you were a photographer and that's what photographers do. 

Front pages, awards, accolades--it was not for these that you pursued your career with such passion. You had a thirst for knowledge and understanding and a talent for telling a story with your lens. Your pictures told the story in simple, eloquent, and powerful ways stripped of excessive artistic overtones. Brutally honest and to the point, we all got it. 

It is said that photographers are the ones that go to the back of a cave with a torch and return to tell the rest of the tribe what is there. If not for your bravery, your willingness to venture to the depths of these caves, and your relentless pursuit of the truth and reality of war, so many would never see its wretched face. In bringing these images to the minds of people around the world you made a difference, expanded awareness, and brought about change. 

What many may not know is how you returned to Liberia after the war ended to find the militia commander you photographed leaping into the air in celebration after firing a rocket-propelled grenade, high on the adrenalin of war. This earned you many accolades and, in my opinion, should have been the World Press Photo of the year. But that wasn't the point. Once you found him, you realized he had no education and not much of a future without one, so you enrolled him in school and paid for the tuition. Each time you returned to Liberia, you visited him and the school principal to make sure he was attending his classes!

Your photograph of a little girl bloodied and traumatized after her parents were killed by American soldiers in Iraq was one of the most moving pictures I have ever seen. In that image, I felt her pain and the senseless futility and madness that is war. 

An inspiration, a teacher, a gentleman, and a friend. I will miss you and never forget you, brother.

Your images will forever be in my mind and I know the world has lost vision without you in it, but your images will live on as teachers forever.

I pray for love to surround your family at this time. You were a great man. You were my friend. Thank you.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Photojournalist Chris Hondros was killed in an explosion in the western Libyan city of Misurata on Wednesday.

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Comments

just beautiful..

just to know there are and were people like chris hondros and tim hetherington in our world is a huge source of hope

thank you for sharing!

very touching

My heart goes out to all, especially family and close friends. Very touching tribute.

Nic, thank you for those wonderful words mate.

I think you summed it up better than any of us could ever do.

My thoughts and prayers are with all of Chris and Tim's family and friends during this difficult time.

Stay strong my brother.

thanks for this, Nic. Much love to you as you process this horrible loss.
xo L

Great tribute Nic,

I remember our drinks together. And the night on the town in Monrovia, where we took two cars out to find a late night spot, driving over those potholes with our headlights on the very back of your vehicle where Chris and others had stashed you, you were exhausted and flopping around the backseat corner asleep. We all cracked up. What times.

Been looking through his pictures, reading all the articles. As you say, a master.

Take care, Nic, and hope we'll reconnect somewhere out there. Been too long.

Nic I have not the opportunity to have met you, yet if you were a friend of Chris's this alone tells me you gotta be a quality guy.

Chris and I met in Iraq 2004. He found me to give me a message. The message sweet. Chris involving himself swiftly in my life as if we'd grown up together. The immediacy of friendship was then and even now a gift.

Sherlyn Borkgren April 26, 2011 5:22:07 AM ET

Thanks Nic. We're lucky to have known them at their best, and to have spent some golden moments in those friendships is worth all the pain that follows. If only we could bring them back.

Katharine Houreld April 27, 2011 4:39:42 AM ET

Nic , I did not know your friends , but your tribute to them brings them closer .
Thinking of you and your friends .PEACE