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Humanitarianism, vainglory, a thirst for danger, a need to make art, a need to make a living—surely all these motives are present in varying degrees in war photographers. In Diary [embedded below], a short film that was seen by too few people at this year's Full Frame, Tim Hetherington offered up something like a window into his soul. It's a sensory evocation of his life in war zones, of strange hotel rooms, mosquito netting, long distance phone calls and rides into the bush, down scary-looking roads, with smiling, gun-toting teenagers riding in the back. It's a beautiful distillation of a decade of his life. But it was only recently that Hetherington began to be famous—he was at Full Frame a year ago with Restrepo, for which he was nominated for an Oscar this year along with his co-director, Sebastian Junger. And it was surely due to that Oscar nomination that his death received so much attention.
While Hetherington's death—along with that of Hondros—is an occasion for sadness, it's also clear that he was fully aware of the danger he embraced. But what is the value of these photos in an age when we're flooded with images, millions of them captured by our cameras and cell phones and dumped into Photobuckets and uploaded to Flickr and broadcast via Instagram and plastered on our Facebook walls? Pictures are everywhere, including images of suffering. One fears that Hondros and Hetherington had to die for us to really take a look at their work; one hopes, however, that the work of capturing those images was its own reward for them, and that their work will outlive our generation and stand as an imperishable record of our violent age.
Correction (April 28, 2011): Hondros' photo of the 5-year-old girl in Tal Afar, Iraq, is from 2005, not 2003.