Photographer Tim Hetherington Captured Life, Not War, Says Friend

Journalist Sebastian Junger reflects on career of photographer killed in Libya.

April 21, 2011 — -- Before he was cut down by rocket fire Wednesday during a battle in Misrata, Libya, veteran photographer Tim Hetherington was in the midst of a career-long quest to capture the images he thought could help him -- and hopefully the world -- understand the humanity in war, according to longtime friend and war zone colleague Sebastian Junger.

"Tim with his camera wanted to understand life. Life includes war, unfortunately," Junger told ABC News hours after news of Hetherington's death emerged. "He would say, 'Look, war is terrible. Terrible things happen in war. But people also love really profoundly in war and they laugh in war. They do generous things and they do cowardly things. Everything happens in war.'"

Junger and Hetherington went to Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008 on assignment for ABC News and Vanity Fair. Their reporting first formed for the basis for a series of Nightline pieces, including "The Other War," which won both a duPont and an Overseas Press Club award, and then became the documentary "Restrepo," nominated for an Academy Award.

Junger said that one of Hetherington's main motivations as a photographer was to bring light to the humanitarian suffering that accompanies war. Hetherington had gone to Libya on his own dime to help tell the world what was going on there and in his final Twitter message Tuesday, he wrote, "In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of NATO."

"His last tweet is such a perfect one for him to have left this world with because I know that had to have been on his mind," Junger said. "He would've seen dead and dying and wounded people... and I know what that would've done to him personally."

Though Hetherington's prolific career took him to war zones from Sierra Leone through Afghanistan and finally to Libya, Junger said Hetherington did not consider himself a war photographer.

"He kept saying, 'I'm an image maker.' And he made a lot of images in war zones. Of course in war things are dramatic ... but he was really trying to capture something essential about life."

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Despite spending months with a battle-hardened U.S. Army company dodging bullets in the most dangerous valley in Afghanistan during his work on "Restrepo," Hetherington never got so excited as the first day the fighting stopped and everyone fell asleep.

"I remember one day there was nothing going on and everyone was asleep and I was just sitting bored out of my mind," Junger said. "Tim was running around like crazy taking photographs of the soldiers as they were sleeping ... and he came up to me and said, "Listen, you never see soldiers asleep. This is incredible! No one ever sees these images!' And I realized that Tim was open to a whole part of reality that I and everyone I know is completely ignorant of, oblivious to. ... He would notice the most mundane things and make them extraordinary."

Junger: Hetherington's 'Moment of Bravery That Just Took My Breath Away'

But when the bullets were flying, Junger said he noticed a curious duality to Hetherington: "I think he was braver than me and I think he got scared more than I did," Junger said. "I don't know how you put those two things together, but I saw it in him."

Junger said that sometimes Hetherington would get stressed out at small things, and then other times -- such as in the middle of a firefight -- he showed incredible courage.

"I remember we got hit really hard once and there were bullets hitting all around us... and all of our gear and our bulletproof vests were like six feet away across some open space. We couldn't get to it because there was so much gun fire," Junger recalled. "I was just absolutely paralyzed. It was the only time that's happened in my life -- I was absolutely panicked. He drew a deep breath and jumped across the gap, through the gun fire, and grabbed my gear and his gear and jumped back again. And we were able to start working.

"It was a moment of bravery that just took my breath away."

Junger said that while at war, he and Hetherington lived in a world of heroes. He didn't think Hetherington would be comfortable with the title.

"I don't think it ever crossed his mind that he was brave, but he was an image maker and he was dedicated to his calling," Junger said. "And in some ways so dedicated to it that it wasn't a question of being brave or not. It was just something that he felt had to be done by somebody and he knew he was good at it -- he was really good at it -- and so he did it."

Junger had spoken to Hetherington just last week over the phone and then later in an email. In both conversations, he said he told Hetherington to be careful, but knew Hetherington was aware of the risks involved in covering violence in its most raw form.

"One of the things he really wanted to communicate was what it is about those situations that make people in some ways the most human they've ever been," Junger said. "He was in search of his own humanity, and I think he found it."

Hetherington was 40 when he died. In a statement, Hetherington's family noted that he would be remembered for his "amazing images" and his journalism, and said, "Tim was in Libya to continue his ongoing multimedia project to highlight humanitarian issues during time of war and conflict. He will be forever missed."

U.S. Army Major Dan Kearney, who was prominently featured in Hetherington and Junger's Afghanistan coverage, said that in his time with the troops, Hetherington became family.

"Tim wasn't just a friend," an emotional Kearney told ABC News after learning of Hetherington's death. "He was a brother to me."

President Barack Obama said in a statement he was "saddened" to learn of Hetherington's death and said he is "deeply concerned about the well-being of journalists who were wounded alongside him.

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"Journalists across the globe risk their lives each day to keep us informed, demand accountability from world leaders, and give a voice to those who would not otherwise be heard," he said.

Photographer Chris Hondros of Getty Images died of wounds received during the same Misrata attack that killed Hetherington. Guy Martin of Panos News Agency was also gravely wounded, while photographer Michael Brown was less severely wounded.

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