Our NPR colleague David Gilkey is among the best photojournalists in the world, as his honors (including a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the 2011 "still photographer of the year" award from the White House News Photographers Association) attest.
Wednesday, David was in Afghanistan when he heard that photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros had been killed in Misrata, Libya, and that two others, photographers Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown, had been wounded.
Morning Edition spoke with David about his fallen friends and about how photojournalists work in war zones. There was much more to the conversation than what the show had time to put on the air, so we've pulled together more of what David had to say. He both pays tribute to the work done by Hetherington and Hondros and helps explain to the rest of us why warzone photographers do what they do.
We'll start with David's reaction to the news.
"I'm sitting here in complete ... I just feel numb," he said. "With everything that's happened, with the kidnapped journalists and the things that were going on in Libya, you never expect it to be someone that you know and you work with."
Hetherington, said David, "really brought home and personalized what was going on over here" in the documentary Restrepo about a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan.
And Hondros, was "one of the world's best conflict photographers" who could also "add something really beautiful" in other situations. "Whenever you saw him out, you knew he was going to do something that was out of the ordinary."
Photojournalists who go into war zones, said David, "all know the risks. ... It's a very hard thing to put in to words ... the peace you sort of make with what you're going to be doing.
David said that where he is now, in Afghanistan and especially when he's embedded with U.S. forces, "the one thing that you always know is if something goes wrong ... that you're with U.S. forces and there's a medic right there. ... You know that ... somebody's got your back. That you're walking around with a group of guys [and] if something terrible happens, that they're going to do everything that they possibly can to get you help. Unfortunately, I think in Libya, that safety net isn't there."
Hetherington, Hondros and their colleagues did have each other, David said. And it may surprise people that photojournalists from different news outlets routinely travel together in war zones.
"We tend to pair up or we work in threes," David said. "There's always a better decision-making process when you have other people to bounce risky decisions off of. The other thing is, you're sort of looking out for each other. ... Without fail, [you're] not going to shoot the same picture. Yet, that working in a team and that community is a way of trying to stay safe. ... We all have worked together for a very long time."
That community of photojournalists, David said, has obviously been shocked by their friends' deaths. But, "in the end I think that that community will pull together to support [each other] and work their way through this."
Our colleagues at WHYY's Fresh Air have more today on the work war zone photographers do. They spoke with combat photographers Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, both of whom have been seriously injured in the field. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.