Thursday, 21 April 2011

The integrity of Tim Hetherington

From the series Sleeping Soldiers. © Tim Hetherington

Sometimes there are those rare individuals who, in one's life, just seem to be always present. For me, Tim Hetherington was one of those people. Fresh out of university, I wanted to make an impression as a photographer and I started at the Big Issue in 1999. Just before working for them I met the fiercely passionate and committed Tim who had been their only staff
photographer. He had just left the magazine and I wanted to fill his shoes, as, at that time, the Big Issue was doing wonderfully interesting reportage stories. Tim had moved on, indeed he was always moving on at a terrific rate with absolute vision and conviction, forging forward with intellectual rigour and always thinking outside the frame. We met many times over the years and every time we spoke he conveyed his ideas to be a communicator reaching out to the masses, leaving the ego behind. What mattered in life was to inform about complex issues that led to suffering. The stereotype of the photojournalist was not Tim.

He embedded himself so much into the lives’ of those he documented. I remember once at Perpignan the West African characteristics he had picked up in his mannerisms and language from his long stay in Sierra Leone and Liberia. I was in awe of the incredibly smart and sensitive work he did with blind children in Sierra Leone, often the victims of the Revolutionary United Force, and the way in which he linked it to blind children in the UK to show difference and similarity and what it means to see and feel.

My last fond memory was bumping into him at Liberty's store in London on Christmas Eve where we were both frantically trying to find last minute presents; he bought a lovely silk scarf for his sister. Of course we spoke about photography and the lyrical aspects of the medium but I was enthralled by hearing his recent experiences of Liberia and how he was taking time off documenting to work for the United Nations to gather the necessary evidence to convict the ex-president, Charles Taylor, of war crimes.

The huge amount of attention his death has received is for a simple reason and that is that Tim Hetherington was not a superficial photographer. He dug deep, in difficult places, against the odds.

He won the respect of many and I will miss him very much.

Michael Grieve