War correspondents always know who is real and who is not. A war zone is not a good setting for the inauthentic of spirit and heart. We who were print people and who dealt only in words and not in images always knew that the photographers were the brave ones, and in that war...they held a special place in our esteem. We deferred to them, reporter to photographer, in that venue as we did in few others.
They were real because they had to be real; they could not, as we print people could, arrive a little late for the action, be briefed, and then, through the skilled use of interviews and journalism, re-create a scene with stunning accuracy, writing a marvelous you-are-there story that reeked of intimacy even though, in truth, we had missed it all. We could miss the fighting and still do our jobs. They could not. There was only one way for them to achieve intimacy: by being eyewitness.
There is so much to say about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, and about the job of the war photographer. And much is being said in tribute, and much more will be said. I knew them both, but not especially well--in the case of Chris a couple of beers on a couple of occasions, telephone calls when he wrote once for the magazine I used to edit (he was a fine writer too, clear in his thoughts and his feelings). In the case of Tim it was an interview I did with him, last November, over coffee at a hotel lobby in New York. Not much, but in similar ways both Chris and Tim impressed me, immediately and lastingly, as...superior people. That's the term that comes to mind. Humble. Humorous. Giving. Dedicated. Real, as Halberstam put it.