The 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this past week and the attention grabbing headlines made particular note that there was no fiction prize awarded this year. However I was stirred by an aspect of the prizes that hit a little closer to home: the nomination of North Carolina’s own Chris Hondros in the Breaking News Photography category. Hondros was an NC State alum and journalistic photographer who covered pretty much all the recent major conflicts around the world including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and conflicts in Angola, Kashmir, Kosovo, Lebanon, Liberia, Sierra Leone and the West Bank. Neglected as well is the fact that Hondros’s death was overshadowed in the press at the time of its occurrence because he perished alongside noted documentary director Tim Hetherington of ‘Restrepo‘ fame. (It is also important to note that fellow photographers Guy Martin and Michael Brown were also injured in that same attack.) The current exhibition at Artspace‘s upstairs Gallery Two goes a long way towards rectifying this overshadowing. Looking through this show’s portfolio of Hondros’s work, all but one of which we are fortunate to have housed nearby at the Gregg Museum at NCSU, is a reminder of how nimble and versatile the photographer really was, performing his journalistic duties with an exquisitely compassionate eye.
Hondros’s legacy will likely be secured by the single photo immediately below which he took of a young militia fighter in Liberia in 2003 and which was beamed around the world. It is a moment of spontaneity certainly (one with need of some clarification as the fighter appears to be solitary and looking directly at the camera when he was in fact momentarily separated from a larger group at that moment and looking beyond the photographer) yet it is one which captures an extraordinary moment of unbridled enthusiasm in the midst of extreme strife and conflict.
But like all the great wartime photographers Hondros always seemed to keep an eye out for that particular moment which captures the time and essence of culture, place and event. Look no further than his photograph below of a Kurdish girl walking home for instance. It’s poignant yet timeless in a most mysterious way. One which is quite fleeting in the majority of today’s photo headline stories. This was a theme that ran through much of the photographer’s images I think: a sensitivity to local people and context while at the same time expressive of larger gripping, universal themes of conflict and the devastations of war. Give these photos a closer look if you get a chance as we are not likely to see the photographer the likes of Hondros pass our way again anytime soon I’m afraid.
Looking at the power of the visual imagery is a moving enough experience. But the most somber aspect of both the images and the retrospective itself is the simple fact that Hondros put his life on the line for his work. One is constantly reminded of this but perhaps most poignantly in the final portfolio of Getty images taken just before the photographer’s death from brain injuries suffered from a mortar attack. The Artspace photos are more well rounded than that last day’s work due in large part to the vast extent of territory which Hondros covers and divulges before our eyes.
Chris Hondros: A Retrospective is on view at Artspace in downtown Raleigh through May 26, 2012
(all detail images courtesy of Getty Images/Chris Hondros except portrait of Chris Hondros taken April 18, 2011 in Misurata, Libya image courtesy of Katie Orlinsky)