Thursday, April 21, 2011

Losing a Friend

Third Floor Crew 12 Sept 2004

Part of the Third Floor Crew (from left-right: Me, Hondros, Swayne Hall, Marc Kawanishi and Brent Smith)



Today, I lost a very good friend.


Chris Hondros was killed, along with another talented photojournalist Tim Hetherington, while covering the war in Libya.


It was January of 1991 when I first met Chris. He was the photo editor for the Technician, the student newspaper at North Carolina State University, and I was interested in joining the staff as a photographer.


I had developed an interest in photography while in high school and wanted to give photojournalism a try. Chris was there to take my application. But first, I had to pass a test.


Chris handed me camera and told me to set the correct exposure for a hallway outside the Technician office. I took the camera, I think it was an F3, and managed to fumble through the settings to make the exposure. Chris double-checked the exposure, confirmed it was correct and hired me on the spot.


If only all the jobs I’ve ever applied for were this easy to get hired.


For that entire semester, I lived in the Technician darkroom. And my grades showed it. But I discovered this passion for photography that has stayed with me until today. A passion I inherited from Chris. Though, I firmly believe his passion was much greater than mine. Actually, I know it was.


For the next couple of years, Chris and I, along with other members of the third floor crew as we called each other, challenged ourselves and learned from one another. State didn’t have a photojournalism program, so we were dependent upon each other and the older photographers to learn this craft.


It made for a tight knit group. One that has lasted through the years.


We were so eager to learn, that we took a photojournalism class at the UNC-Chapel Hill together with our friends Nigel Moritz and Swayne Hall.


I don’t want to say we dominated the class, but we did make our presence known. That was the same year Chris won student photographer of the year in the North Carolina Press Photographer’s Association and I placed third. Second place went to our friend Evan Eile from UNC.


I’ll never forget one night while we were students at State, Chris and I were at a party. It was 1993 and the war in the breakaway republics of Yugoslavia were coming to a head with the Serbian siege of Sarajevo. There was talk of the US sending in troops. We both were pretty intoxicated and got this crazy idea in our heads. We were going to Sarajevo if US troops went in. We pulled a dry erase board of a refrigerator and drew a crude map of Europe. Hondros had relatives in Germany and we determined, blindly, that it was about a 3-5 hour drive to Sarajevo.


We immediately started crafting a spring break trip around this plan.


In preparing for our trip, a couple of our friends decided to join us to Germany. They were totally unaware of our plans. Actually, we intentionally kept them in the dark. Our secret plan, if the US became involved, was to leave our friends in the hands of Chris’ relatives and make a beeline for Sarajevo in our rented VW.


Luckily, for both of us, this never materialized.


We enjoyed a week in Germany and the warm hospitality of Chris’ relatives.


But Chris was hooked on conflict photography.


He would eventually finance his own trip to war torn Kosovo to cover the fighting there.


Within a few years, he became one of the first staff photographers for Getty Images.


Hondros covered wars in places like Kosovo, Angola, Liberia, Egypt and Iraq. Wherever there was conflict, you could find Chris.


I followed him through the Getty website, doing occasional searches for his name. It was the best way to keep track of him.


It worried me when I saw he was in Libya. A few weeks earlier, Tyler Hicks from the NY Times, a very good friend of Chris’, was captured and detained by the Libyan government.


This was a very dangerous place. And even more dangerous for journalists.


I knew something was wrong today when I got calls from two of my college friends mere seconds apart. I was able to pick up but checked my voicemail as quick as I could.


That’s when I heard about Chris.


To say this has been a difficult day is an understatement. The only solace I can take is knowing that Chris died doing what he loved, taking pictures.


His passion for photography and love of life will live with me forever.


I will forever miss you my friend.