There are times in “Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer” (Grove Press, 250 pages, $25) when author Alan Huffman gives readers the idea that Hetherington’s fate was tragic, yet inevitable — not in a thrill-seeking way, but as a street-savvy photojournalist and humanitarian hard-wired to do incredible storytelling about those devastated by war.
In stark, unsentimental words, Huffman shows how the bold and ambitious Hetherington was drawn past even his own inner psychological boundary.
Wartime feature shots that offered the smallest illusion of safety gradually gave way to the heart-pumping, adrenaline-racing front lines. Sure, there were times when Hetherington came off as slightly cocky with his almost invincible, rough-hewed persona. But as the book goes on, it becomes apparent that he was so focused on his photographic mission that he grew oblivious to danger.
Hetherington, 40, was one of the world’s top war photographers when he died from a mortar blast while covering the Libyan Civil War on April 20, 2011. A recipient of the Alfred I. duPont Award, the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, Hetherington also received an Oscar nomination for his work as co-director with Sebastian Junger on “Restrepo,” the acclaimed 2010 documentary about the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan.
Huffman portrays him as a gritty yet attractive man who certainly could have chosen to use his enormous talents in less harrowing ways, but who was driven to tell the stories of those fighting in the most dangerous parts of the world.
Being embedded with troops in Iraq wasn’t enough for him. Hetherington was part of an elite corps of photojournalists who would settle for nothing but the most daring conflicts, and he set his own terms on how long to stay.
Gut-wrenching as his story is, it’s an inspirational one that is especially significant in this era of media downsizing and of sanitized, corporate-driven journalism.
Tom Henry is a Toledo-based journalist and book editor of SEJournal, a quarterly magazine of the Society of Environmental Journalists.