There’s a quote from the movie Apocalypse Now that always stuck with me, when Willard speaks of Colonel Kilgore, the surfing colonel- “He was just one of those guys with that weird light around him. He just knew he wasn’t gonna get so much as a scratch here.”
All the war photographers I’ve ever met had that weird light about them. They are God’s chosen ones- His angels designated to be the bearers of bad news and images of hell on earth. What kind of maniac chooses to enter a battle unarmed? I don’t believe they choose to do it. I believe they are chosen.
I drank myself into a stupor last night and I tried to understand how it was possible that the faces of two such men were splashed across the front page of CNN in some sort of unholy diptych. These things just don’t happen. Photographers lose a foot here, some legs there- sacrifices to the altar of war- but not lives. Not in 40 years. The general public might think it would be a foregone conclusion that they die all the time. Soldiers do. Photographers surely must as well- but no. It doesn’t happen.
But it happened yesterday, and instead of reading an obscure name- the name of some adrenaline junkie rookie who popped his head up at just the wrong time- I read the names of two of our finest.
Chris Hondros was a very dear friend of mine. He was a renaissance man and a true gentleman. We’d sit for hours over fruity cocktails, discussing politics, history, philosophy and photography. We’d duet on the piano, even though I don’t know how to play. Sometimes he’d call in the middle of the night from Iraq or Afghanistan, just to talk. He’d ask me why I wasn’t covering the war zone du jour. He knew I’d wanted to be a conflict photographer early on, and I’d deflect with an excuse- but the truth was simply that I was not brave enough to do it.
I always teased him about being a playboy. I called him the George Clooney of the photography world and chided him about finding a nice girl someday and settling down. He called me a few weeks ago to tell me he’d found her and that he was going to get married this summer. I was genuinely overjoyed for him. We talked about how quickly life moves and made plans to grab a drink and catch up next time I was in town.
I spent yesterday trying to cry, but I couldn’t. My sober, rational mind has too many protections in place. My brain thinks it’s ok to cry at the movies, but present me with an actual tragedy and I go on emotional lockdown. So last night, I told my brain and its emotional barriers to take a hike and started guzzling whiskey. I achieved breakdown by midnight. I cried for the loss of my friend. I cried for his fiancé and his family. I cried for the whole damn world, because whether folks knew it or not, Chris and Tim were two prime examples of the best our species can do.