A Tribute to Tim Hetherington 1970-2011

Today we all learnt the tragic news of Tim Hetherington’s death and I’ve found myself compelled to write something of the small time I knew him and the huge impact he had on me.

The Frontline Club, where I work, was founded in memory of several journalists killed whilst doing work that has left us a more informed and educated society. It is something we are aware of on a daily basis and this ethos is the backbone of what we do. During the two years I’ve worked there, far too many journalists have been killed while working in some of the most dangerous conditions in the world.

I got the news of what had happened to Tim through a friend, and nearly fought with him on the phone because I couldn’t comprehend the possibility that it was true. Tim had been working in the besieged Libyan city of Misurata, which had been cut off by land by Gaddafi loyalists and was under heavy attack.

A few months into starting at Frontline, I was tasked with putting on a huge event that looked at issues within photojournalism. We had a great topic and it was looking to be a fantastic event, but we kept running into problems with people being unable to attend. Even Danfung Dennis, who was due to win a prize in our photography competition, was concerned he might not make it. We soon realised why, Tim Hetherington was in town to open an exhibition of his work and everyone wanted to be there instead. I was frustrated, not only because we were finding it hard to get people to come, but because I really wanted to go and hear Tim talk, too.

From running previous events on photojournalism at Frontline, and from talking to photographers, there was one name that always came up and it was always in the highest regard, Tim Hetherington. From researching both his photography and filmmaking I developed a huge appreciation of his work.

I can’t remember when I first heard about Restrepo, most likely it was through a fellow photographer. From the moment I did, I began badgering Tim. I was probably a huge pain in the ass, but whenever he received my regular email asking when we’d be able to show the film, Tim always replied with extreme kindness, promising me it would be as soon as he could. Little did I know then that when we finally managed to find a date of which Tim could attend, he would be sent to Libya just days before the screening was due to happen.

When the press release came out that announced that Restrepo had been selected for Sundance, I think I audibly cheered in our office because not only would it be my first time attending the festival but I would also be able to be there to cheer on one of the Frontline Club members’ films. Through emails of congratulations and excitement, we tried to arrange to meet at the festival but, as these things go, it didn’t happen and it wasn’t until Sheffield, last November, that I finally got to meet Tim. After two years of emails, with me largely embarrassing myself due to my fandom, we began several conversations over the following months, each of which left me thinking for weeks afterwards.

Often, when you meet people at the top of their game, they have several negative attitudes that come with success, but Tim was nothing but humble, gracious and excited about everything he was experiencing. He was extremely proud that his short film Diary was showing at the festival, and at that moment, was having a crisis that the panel I’d put him on clashed with the screening of the film.There was no doubt to me that he’d leave the panel early so he could do both but he was adamant that he’d committed to the panel and didn’t want to let me down. I had to almost force him to leave once we’d started, so that he didn’t miss it.

When Tim spoke, he did so with intelligence, eloquence, and emotion about what he had seen and experienced.  He was exceptional in that he had witnessed some of the most horrific things any human being can, yet he had managed to process this in a way that didn’t convey the damage that so many fellow journalists suffer with as a consequence. Instead he spoke about it in a way that captivated you and made you realise that he was doing this work for all the right reasons, to highlight situations in which people are suffering and which need to change.

I feel honoured and grateful to have gotten to know Tim over the last two years. He has always been a symbol to me of the best kind of person working in this industry and will remain a constant mental reference of excellence. Tim was an exceptional photojournalist, filmmaker, cinematographer, journalist and author. His work was subtle, stunning, and important and will be notably missing from our industry, but not nearly as much as we will miss him.

You can watch Tim’s short film Diary, that depicts the experience of his work, here.
To see more of his photography please visit his website here, and of course, watch Restrepo.