The Singular—and Often Tragic—Role of Photojournalists in War Zones 

Dispatches from the front.
Aug. 20 2014 3:28 PM

How Photojournalists Change War Zones 

The work of Chris Hondros, killed in Libya in 2011, shows the profession at its most indispensable. 

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Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros walks the ruins of a building August 21, 2006 in southern Beirut, Lebanon.

Photo by Getty Images

This month Slate featured clips from the latest installment of Brooklyn Brewery’s War Correspondents series—a talk dedicated to Chris Hondros, a war photographer who was killed in Misrata, Libya in 2011. The series showed the pivotal role of photojournalists and reporters in conflict zones, and the unique dangers they face. Following the death of photographer James Foley, weve collected the full series below.

Foley received training from Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, a partner in this series.​

Chris​ Hondros was the thinking man’s war correspondent, working in conflict zones not to satisfy the current news cycle but because there were human stories there he wanted to tell. As Sandy Ciric, director of photography at Getty Images, put it, “It wasn't for a notch in the belt, it wasn't for the adrenaline—he just had an intense curiosity about people.” In the clip above, Ciric joins Christina Piaia (Hondros’ fiancée and president of the Chris Hondros Fund) and Todd Heisler (a staff photographer at the New York Times) to discuss Hondros’ noble view of his profession, as well as how he managed to stay grounded in the field.

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On Jan. 18, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq, a car approached an American patrol on a dark street after curfew, spooking a unit already on high alert. Warning shots were fired to no avail, and, when the driver failed to slow down, the unit opened fire. The two passengers in the front of the car—a civilian mother and father—were killed instantly. In the back were six children, one of whom was badly wounded. It was a family, not insurgents, in the vehicle. Hondros—who had been embedded with the unit and was out on the patrol—captured the complete events on camera, providing heartbreaking images of the tragedy for the world to see. In the clip above, Sandy Ciric and Todd Heisler relay the events of that night, and discuss the tremendous impact that those now-famous pictures had on the lives of those involved, and on military policy in Iraq in general.

In 2003, Hondros was in Liberia, covering the tail end of the second Liberian civil war, a bloody conflict that pitted Charles Taylor’s government forces against two different rebel groups. On one particular day of the brutal war, he and fellow photojournalist Michael Kamber were embedded with a group of LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) fighters when a firefight broke out with government troops. Pinned on one side of a bridge in the midst of the shootout, bullets ricocheting everywhere, Hondros questioned why the two groups were even fighting in the first place. In the clip above, Todd Heisler and Sandy Ciric discuss how Hondros realized the LURD fighters were clueless about the cause of the fight—and ultimately risked his life to negotiate a truce.​​

With the rise of smartphones and social media, everyone with a Wi-Fi connection and an iPhone can pretend to be an amateur photojournalist. But with conflict rampant around the globe—and newsrooms shrinking worldwide—the need for trained and talented photographers in the field has never been more obvious than it is now. In the clip above, Todd Heisler and Sandy Ciric describe the importance of having people like Chris Hondros covering the worlds wars, and why a good photographer is irreplaceable when it comes to accurately reporting a story.

War correspondents make their living by putting themselves in harms way. Thats the nature of the work. As with the soldiers fighting the wars they cover, they too often return home bearing the psychological and emotional scars of all theyve seen and experienced. In the clip above, Christina Piaia, Todd Heisler, and Sandy Ciric discuss the epidemic of PTSD among journalists working in conflict zones, and the resources—or lack thereof—available to those who are suffering. 

​Testament, a collection of Hondros photography and writing, was released posthumously this year.

Chris Wade is a video and podcast producer for Slate and occasional contributor to Brow Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate video blogger.

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