The New York Times is reporting that acclaimed war photographer Chris Hondros, a 1993 graduate of NC State, has died after being injured Wednesday in Libya.
The Times reported that Tim Hetherington, the director and producer of the film “Restrepo” was also killed when he, Hondros and a group of photojournalists came under attack in Misurata. The Times said Hondros spent several hours in a coma before he died.
Hondros, a senior correspondent for Getty Images, has covered conflicts in Irag, Afghanistan, Liberia, Kosovo and elsewhere. He was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography and a finalist for a 2008 National Magazine Award. His photos have appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek and The Economist.
Hondros knew he was interested in photography before he even arrived at NC State, showing up at the offices of Technician with a portfolio of his work from high school. Within a couple of years, Hondros was named student photographer of the year in North Carolina, according to Marc Kawanishi, who was an editor at Technician when Hondros showed up looking for work.
“He was destined to do great things,” Kawanishi said. “He really thrust himself into some amazing positions.”
Joe Johnson ’93, who was editor of Technician his senior year, said Hondros was always willing to do whatever it took to get the right photos.
“He made ordinary situations extraordinary when he went to take a picture of them,” Johnson said. “He was willing to stay to the end with a story, to stick with it as long as it needed to be told.”
Hondros worked at both Technician and the Agromeck during his years at NC State. Todd Bennett ’93, who was editor of the Agromeck when Hondros was photo editor, said Hondros talked during their senior year about becoming a war photographer.
“He was a firm believer in being in the middle of the story,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who now works as a travel photographer in Greensboro, recalled being at a party with Hondros one night during their senior year. He said they were talking about war photography and the conflict in Sarajevo. They pulled a dry erase board off the refrigerator and drew a crude map of Europe, plotting how they might take a detour during a spring break trip to France and Germany to get to Sarajevo.
“That was Chris, that was something he was really passionate about,” Bennett said.
But Bennett, who has kept in touch with Hondros since their college days, said Hondros may be more intrigued by those touched by conflict than the conflict itself.
“There’s reporting the conflict, but also reporting the way people are impacted by war,” Bennett said. “He covers war, but there aren’t just people fighting in wars. It’s not just about a war between two groups or two different sides. It also effects innocent people.”
Hondros’ work has been featured twice in NC State magazine. A 1999 article featured Hondros’ photos from Kosovo. In an essay that accompanied the photos, Hondros wrote about his efforts to get in the middle of the action.
Access to the front lines was difficult, but a fellow photographer and I persuaded some KLA soldiers to take us to a front-line base and then to the front lines themselves, trenches dug at the fringe of a broad field and filled shin-deep with frigid, muddy water. KLA snipers crouched in the trench as random gunfire and shelling rattled overhead.
A 2002 profile took a broader look at Hondros and his work in war-torn countries. Hondros said in that story that he was not looking for the adrenaline rush often associated with such danger, saying he was trying to build a “stable career” doing such work.
But he also spoke about what drove him to do such work.
“Journalism is hopefully a humanitarian endeavor,” Hondros said, “helping people in one way or another through raising awareness.”
Bennett said Hondros was not a violent person, even if he lived his life in violent conditions. But he said Hondros felt strongly about the power of photography to show others what they can’t see for themselves.
“Sometimes we have to be a witness to these things,” Bennett said. “If we’re not there, does it really happen?
“This is the life he wanted to lead.”