Testament: New book pairs late war photographer’s writings and images

A new book titled "Testament" brings together images by Chris Hondros, who was killed in Libya in 2011, with his writings.

Chris Hondros was first and foremost a photographer. As he told a colleague, "You do the talking; I take the pictures." But he wasn't afraid of words and a new book, "Testament," pairs his extensive published writings with his work from "the world's most difficult and dangerous places," chief among them, Iraq and Afghanistan. Hondros, 41, was killed while on assignment in Libya in 2011. The Overseas Press Club awarded him the Robert Capa Gold medal, war photography's highest honor, for his work in Iraq.
His words reveal an intensely committed photographer, one who has hopes of a broader purpose for his work: "One of the ongoing themes in my work... is a sense of shared humanity above the cultural layers we place on ourselves [which don't] mean that much compared to the human experience." But he also struggles with photojournalism's limitations, after repeated visits to Iraq, he writes: "Ten trips. And for what?"
He cares deeply about the suffering he witnesses, arguing passionately for intervention in Liberia in 2003, but every now and then takes a step back and wonders at the absurdity of his situation. "Why am I here?... Why am I hanging on the side of an Afghan mountain. 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 an espresso." Chris died tragically in his prime, but there's no sign that he in any way regretted his life's trajectory up until that point: "The satisfaction of photographing our era's most important issues far outweighs any discomfort, or even fear."
ABOVE: Joseph Duo, a Liberian militia commander loyal to the government, exults after firing a rocket-propelled grenade at rebel forces at a key strategic bridge July 20, 2003 in Monrovia, Liberia.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images Europe

U.S. army soldiers in the 1/501st of the 25th Infantry Division shield their eyes from the powerful rotor wash of a Chinook cargo helicopter as they are picked up from a mission in 2009 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan.
"But if there's one thing I've learned doing war photography, it's never try to anticipate. There are much larger forces at play and we're just along for the ride."

Chris Hondros / Getty Images North America

Hondros made images in Iraq and Afghanistan looking through the windows of U.S. military Humvees. About the Iraqi series he writes: "The window of a Humvee rolling through Baghdad's dangerous streets is essentially a television, watched in the dark. The glass is dirty and 3 inches thick, and everything has a hazy, muted look. You can see out, but Iraqis can't see in, any more than sitcom characters can see you watching."
ABOVE: Clockwise from top left: An Afghan man in Herat in 2010; Afghan schoolgirls in Herat in 2010; An Afghan man rides a donkey near the border with Turkmenistan in 2010; Men picnic on a traffic median in Herat in 2010.

A U.S. Marine pulls down a picture of Saddam Hussein at a school on April 16, 2003 in Al-Kut, Iraq.
"Great photography requires steadiness of hand and heart. Very often the window to take an important picture is only open for a fraction of a second. Waver or hestitate, even if the world is crashing down around you, and the moment will pass."

Samar Hassan, 5, screams after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers with the 25th Infantry Division in a shooting on Jan. 18, 2005 in Tal Afar, Iraq. The troops fired on the Hassan family car when it unwittingly approached them during a dusk patrol in the tense northern Iraqi town. Parents Hussein and Camila Hassan were killed instantly, and a son Racan, 11, was seriously wounded in the abdomen. Racan, paralyzed from the waist down, was treated later in the U.S.

"At 6 p.m. in winter, Tal Afar isn't quite dark yet. That night, there was just a hint of dark-blue light from the sky. No one was out. As the platoon I was traveling with made its way down a broad boulevard, I could see in the distance a car driving toward us... Then came the sound of crying children from the car."

In an essay in "Testament," French journalist Régis Le Sommier recalls how a few weeks after this image was published, Hondros was invited to have lunch with Paul Wolfowitz, the Pentagon's second-in-command. "[Wolfowitz] knew all too well how the picture could have an impact, but was eager to get a sense of who took it."

A rebel fighter celebrates as his comrades fire a rocket barrage toward the positions of troops loyal to Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi on April 14, 2011, west of Ajdabiyah, Libya. Chris Hondros was killed in Libya six days after this image was made.

Chris Hondros / Getty Images Europe

A shepherd tends to his flock as the sun rises June 15, 2005, near Saqlawiyah, Iraq.
In "Testament," Hondros describes a night spent sleeping in the desert in Iraq: "The moon had set and it was ethereally dark and quiet, and I listened to Beethoven's cavatina as I stared up into a black sea sprinkled liberally with the lights of the cosmos. And I felt, for just a moment, that I almost understood why I was there and what it all meant."

"Testament" is published by Getty Images and Powerhouse Books. Getty Images' proceeds from the sale of the book will be donated to The Chris Hondros Fund, which works to support and protect photojournalists.

Chris Hondros