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

Tribute to Chris Hondros, who ventured far with his torch

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.