Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Combat Journalism

“It is moments like these in foreign lands that always prompt me to get philosophical, even existential: Why am I here? How did this happen? Why exactly am I hanging on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan this morning? I’m not in the Army, I didn’t sign up for this. I should be back home, watching TV or canoodling in bed or having a strong espresso in Brooklyn. Or just about anywhere else.
But in the end, things tend to work themselves out, I find, and the satisfaction of photographing and documenting the most important issues of our time far outweighs any temporary discomfort, or even fear.”

Ever since his death on April 20th of this year, I have been obsessed with Chris Hondros (website) and his work—don’t worry it isn't an unhealthy or dangerous obsession, just respectful admiration.  Chris worked as a combat journalist covering most of the major conflicts in the world since the late 90’s.  He has worked in hot spots like Kosovo, Angola, Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the West Bank, Iraq, and Liberia.  What drives someone to want to take on such a job?  Is it an utter lack of responsibility for your well being or is it a genuine belief that you hold, that the work needs to be done, that it must be done and you need to be the one to do it?

I can relate to his thoughts in some ways.  When we don't have water in Olancho for days at a time.  When the electricity goes off for the weekend.  When I lull myself to sleep with the gunshots of narco traffickers busy at work.  Sometimes I think, "God, life would be so much easier without all this.  And I left that life why?"  

I have always thought that if our experiences could be put on a graph it would show a line representing a positive relation to things generally working out in our favor but not at an overly steep gradient.  It is an average of our experiences, though if each point were to be plotted, some would be really low toward the "fucking disaster category" and some would be high toward the "all for the best category".  Some people live their life on the average, knowing that bad things can happen, but generally it will be alright.  So they take risks and make sacrifices to do what the cautious won't do.  Because the rewards are that much better from high risks.  Those that see the graph as is, without the averages, see something different.  There are a lot of bad things that can happen to us, some of which we can control or avoid.  Chris lived by the averages and things didn't work themselves out.  He paid the ultimate price.    

What a life he must have lived though.  Seeing the most historical moments in the last 15 years right in from of his lens.  I don't know if the world can function without that beauty and real time news.  And yes I say beauty, because the pain of war can be beautiful.  Like the anguish a mother feels when her child is injured as an innocent bystander.  Hondros called it, "incredibly inspiring, such a pure distillation of a mother's love."

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