NAVIGATING ALTERNATE REALITIES
A Tribute to TIM HETHERINGTON /
Part III: Our Look at the Phenomenal Photojournalist who was Tragically Killed in Libya
Remembrances by Tyler Malone
A couple days after I interviewed Tim Hetherington ( Part I / Part II ), just before the Oscars, in I assume one of his last interviews, he emailed me, thanking me for our discursive discussion and then added: “Also–out of interest, what are your favorite films…? You asked me, but I didn’t ask you.” That’s the kind of guy he was. I was interviewing him, but he preferred to call it a discussion. He didn’t want the spotlight on him. We were conversing, and in our conversation he was as curious about my life as I was about his. He really made it seem like what I was saying was as important as what he was saying. A democracy of voices, he believed in. And I got the sense that that was a main part of the reason that he chose the work that he did, which put him in harm’s way, but kept him “telling stories that no one else is telling,” giving a voice to the voiceless.
Tim Hetherington was an exceptional man–caring, kind, intelligent, funny, driven, insightful. Before conducting our conversation, I had never actually done a real interview completely in person, so I was a bit nervous, but I couldn’t have had a sweeter man to interview. Before I started taping our conversation, with our mouths stuffed with tacos, he broke the ice by asking me all about how I started working with Patrick McMullan and what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. When I told him I wanted to be a writer, and am currently working on a novel, his eyes lit up. “Who is your favorite writer?” he asked, beaming like a little boy. “Well, it’s the obvious pretentious choice,” I prefaced my answer with, “but Joyce.” Tim laughed, and explained that he started out wanting to be a writer, that his favorite writer was James Joyce, and that he actually wrote his college dissertation on Finnegans Wake. All the while with a smile on his face, as though he was happy he had found a kindred spirit. He told me numerous times that day and afterward that he liked that our conversation–he refused to call it an interview–was more discursive than an average interview, that it was about sharing interesting and engaging ideas.
We talked about Restrepo obviously, but we didn’t just talk about that documentary, or the war it covered, or the Academy Award nomination it garnered (he actually left our lunchtime chat to go get suited for his tux for the ceremony). We also talked about his art exhibition Sleeping Soldiers. And he was adamant that I check out his short film Diary–he was certain that with my interest in perception, dreams, the poetic aspects of cinema, French director Chris Marker and Hetherington’s own Restrepo, that I’d love it. He was right. And watching it again, after Tim’s death, it is even more haunting, more surreal, more dream-like. And yet all the more real simultaneously.
But, like I say, in our conversation at the taco joint, he refused to only talk about himself and his work. He wanted to know about me. He asked me all about my novel. We discussed my blog of David Markson marginalia. He had never heard of David Markson, but was immediately entranced by my description of Markson’s writing, so I couldn’t help but send him a copy of Wittgenstein’s Mistress as a thank you a few days after our conversation. To think that that copy of Markson’s book with my inscription to Hetherington, thanking him for our discursive discussion, is probably sitting somewhere in his apartment waiting to be found by the friends and loved ones who inevitably will go through his things fills me with such mixed emotions.
I am so grateful that we became acquainted in the few months before his death. He was a wonderful first in-person interview–so sweet and kind and gracious, so funny and intelligent and comforting. I am grateful I got the chance to be a small part of his life, and grateful he was a part of mine. But then there’s the sadness. The sadness at the thought of his tragic death. The world is a worse place for him no longer being in it. He was a fascinating man. He seemed eternally curious–which has always been the trait that I admire most in people. It is what I consider the true sign of an intellectual individual. He was an amazing person to interview, or rather: to converse with.
After our talk, we emailed and texted a few times, and I really felt as though I had gained a mentor of sorts–a wise sage interested in navigating alternate realities, in exploring ambiguities, in learning, in growing, in becoming. In our conversation, he talked to me about how he’d love to settle down. Specifically, he wanted to live on a farm somewhere in South America. Yet I could see he was restless. I couldn’t imagine him stopping for a second. He needed to tell stories. He didn’t merely snap photos in dangerous places–anyone fearless enough to face conflict could do that–but rather he told stories with his images. He was a writer, he just used a camera instead of a pen. And, though I admittedly didn’t know him well, I could never imagine him stopping of his own accord. Unfortunately, he was stopped, not of his own accord on Wednesday, April 20th, 2011, when he was killed in Libya. He died doing what he loved, documenting truths, telling stories, navigating alternate realities. I don’t personally believe in an afterlife, but I do hope that Tim Hetherington is somewhere, elsewhere, still navigating alternate realities.
Tim Hetherington, award winning photographer and documentary filmmaker, is the co-producer and co-director of Restrepo with Sebastian Junger, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. His latest publishing project is Infidel, an intimate portrait of a single U.S. platoon stationed in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. The images were made over the course of one year while Hetherington and Junger were filming Restrepo. Hetherington has reported on conflict and human rights issues for more than ten years. He was the only photographer to live behind rebel lines during the 2003 Liberian civil war–work that culminated in the film Liberia: An Uncivil War and the book Long Story Bit by Bit : Liberia Retold (Umbrage 2009), and his work for Human Rights Watch to uncover civilian massacres on the Chad / Darfur border in 2006 appeared in the documentary The Devil Came on Horseback. He is the recipient of four World Press Photo awards, including the World Press Photo of the Year (2007), and an Alfred I. duPont Award in broadcast journalism while on assignment with Sebastian Junger for ABC News (2009). A native of the UK, he is lives in New York and is a contributing photographer for Vanity Fair.
Tim Hetherington interviewed by Tyler Malone
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by © Tim Hetherington & Outpost Films
Additional Photography By Amber De Vos & Jimi Celeste
Design by Marie Havens
(L) Tim Hetherington, SLIDELUCK POTSHOW XII, Canoe Studios, 601 W. 26th St, NYC, August 6, 2009, Photography by Amber De Vos for Patrick McMullan.com
(R) Outpost (“OP”) Restrepo. Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan. 2008. A film still from the documentary RESTREPO by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. Image © Outpost Films
Tim Hetherington, Daniella Petrova, & Sebastian Junger, THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW OF MOTION PICTURES AWARDS GALA, Cipriani 42nd St., New York, January 11, 2011, Photography by Jimi Celeste for Patrick McMullan.com
(L) Tim Hetherington, THE NATIONAL BOARD OF REVIEW OF MOTION PICTURES AWARDS GALA, Cipriani 42nd St., New York, January 11, 2011, Photography by Jimi Celeste for Patrick McMullan.com
(R) Outpost (“OP”) Restrepo. – focus of the documentary RESTREPO by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger. Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, Kunar Province. 2008. Photograph © Tim Hetherington