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March 09 2012

The month in photography – audio slideshow

Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – featuring William Eggleston, Weegee, Tim Hetherington, Ryan McGinley and Eve Arnold



December 11 2011

Tim Hetherington remembered by Idil Ibrahim

The Oscar-nominated film-maker and photojournalist was a noble, brilliant man who lived live to the full, writes his girlfriend, film-maker Idil Ibrahim

It is hard to believe just a few months ago, Tim and I were beaming with joy on the red carpet at the Oscars both in a state of awe. "Don't worry," Tim said, holding me closer after not winning his category for best documentary film, "I have my Oscar right here." These last few months have been a far cry from career highs and red carpet events and have been replaced by a whirlwind of honorary awards ceremonies, articles, and exhibitions in Tim's honour, all of which are very touching, but painful reminders of this new reality of a world without him.

Despite the fact that much of his work took him to risky places, Tim was no daredevil. He was very measured in his approach to work and always concerned for safety. He thought at worst he might get kidnapped just as his colleagues had months before. That's what we both thought. We never imagined death.

We met in late 2009 at a screening for a film I'd worked on as a producer, and we immediately connected as we both shared a passion for social issues. We started conversing and discovered that I'd seen some of his incredible footage from the Liberian civil war – I was incredulous and could not believe he'd filmed it. We shared an awkward laugh though the subject matter was far from comedic. We started as friends and started dating the following year. It was a beautiful romance. There is so much I miss, though I suppose I miss our shared laughter the most, far from any glitzy event or awards ceremony.

Tim was incredibly thoughtful. When travelling, he was always in constant contact through Skype, email or the photos he would send me from his iPhone. When he returned home to New York, where we both lived, he'd bring me gifts from around the world. Tim had a way of defying time and distance so that we never felt apart.

He was much more than a brilliant conflict photographer. He was an artist. He experimented with multimedia, wrote, and created provocative and gut-wrenching films such as Restrepo [an award-winning documentary about a US platoon in Afghanistan]. Incredibly well read, he was always thinking very creatively about different ways to approach his work.

He was tender and nurturing to those around him too. I remember a time when he was exhausted from weeks of travel for Restrepo and barely had time to eat or sleep. One day he had back-to-back interviews; however, he also promised to have a Skype call with a young photography student from Birmingham and agreed to participate in an interview for an online magazine. Tim worked his entire schedule so that he could fulfil both obligations.

I not only mourn the loss of Tim, but I mourn the loss of our future together. I mourn for the plans we had. I mourn for the children we will never have, the long list of places we will never visit together and the things we will never do. Although my heart is broken, I try to take some comfort in knowing that he was killed doing what he loved most, in a place he wanted to be.

Tim was incredibly honest, respectful and full of integrity. He believed in not compromising his ideals and in testing himself and his boundaries so that he could truly be free and live life to the fullest, and he encouraged me to do the same. He was by far the most brilliant person I have known. Tim's work is about trying to build bridges and understanding between people. In light of our current global social, political, environmental and economic climate, his death has caused me to pause and reflect on steps I can take to effect change in my own way, on any scale, to ease human suffering in the world.


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May 15 2011

Letters: Tim Hetherington obituary

Lawrence Bogle writes: Of the group of hopefuls short-listed for interview as staff photographer at the Big Issue in 1997, I wanted Tim Hetherington (obituary, 22 April) for the job even before seeing his work. I could see immediately that he had what we needed: an uncompromising and bright disposition, someone who would meet the challenges pitched his way square on. This was Tim's first role as a professional photo- grapher, and I see him now picking his way through jobs that ranged from the prosaic to the profound.

Often Tim would find himself on shoots that might have scared a lesser talent, but he always returned with shining pictures. If there was a story to follow, Tim would be up and off, so when we tried to use him for celebrity portraits or fashion, it fell flat. Tim needed to relate to his subject: he expressed his empathy and understanding of the human condition through the camera lens. Working with Tim was easy – he made it that way because he listened, looked, understood a briefing and was present, and like this he always remained.

Max Daly writes: I was a roving reporter for the Big Issue, and Tim came with me on a lot of strange stories. Before hunting was banned, scuffles between hunt saboteurs and huntsmen were often in the news, and we went to a houseboat in Suffolk to meet a group of saboteurs at about four in the morning. They had code-names, rucksacks full of citronella spray, Ordnance Survey maps, and walkie-talkies. They gave us camouflage fatigues and helped us to black up. We spent a day in a jeep and on foot chasing the hunt, confronting huntsmen, jumping over hedges, getting stuck in streams – and we were covered in mud.

Tim got lost for two hours after he had gone right up to some huntsmen and got knocked over by a horse. He loved all the action – and the pictures were amazing.

Raekha Prasad writes: Tim and I covered many stories on the lives of young people, such as the young, black British teenage boys with ambitions to go to the US to become basketball professionals. Near Turnpike Lane tube station, north London, he photographed a teenager jumping to dunk the ball in the net, and it gave us a cover story.

The teenager's bedroom was plastered with images of basketball heroes, and after taking some shots there, Tim returned eager to discuss racial identity and notions of Britishness. Intensely earnest, he was always concerned as to whether words and image accurately reflected a subject's own position and definition of themselves. 

David Batty writes: The Big Issue story with Tim that sticks in my mind concerned Gulf war syndrome. At the time I was investigating the use of depleted uranium in the first Gulf war, and claims by veterans that they had suffered terrible ill health as a result. We went out and about at Waterloo station with a veteran, trying to track down some of his former colleagues. He was clearly very nervous – suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and extremely worried that he would be targeted by the Ministry of Defence.

Tim put the veteran at ease with a calm, quiet confidence. It was the right manner to take with ex-servicemen – they responded to his serious and genuine interest. We did not have much luck tracking people down, but it still made for a well-illustrated colour piece about life on the street.

Garth Cartwright writes: By 2000, Tim had moved on from the Big Issue and the Daily Telegraph's Saturday magazine commissioned us to cover the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks in their village of Clejani and in Bucharest. Tim liked to place himself in the centre of the action – he never stood apart from the people he was photographing. Instead, he joined in as he constantly snapped away.

As we were walking through downtown Bucharest, Tim took a shot of a man begging at car windows. One of the cars stopped and its driver leapt out. He ran towards Tim brandishing a badge that apparently identified him as a security agent. He wanted to arrest Tim for taking what seemed to us to be innocuous photos, so Tim pretended to be an ignorant tourist and pleaded his way out of a trip to the Securitate offices. This brush with the law did nothing to diminish his sense of adventure.


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May 06 2011

The month in photography

Our guide to the month's best photo exhibitions and books – including works by Tim Hetherington, Bruce Davidson, Jacques Henri Lartigue and Herb Ritts



April 22 2011

'Telling the unadorned truth'

Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros were killed while shooting the war in Libya. The Guardian head of photography explains the unique challenge of war photojournalism

In a closely controlled, PR-led media world, war remains the last frontier of raw reality. To the photojournalist, this has to be the ultimate attraction, even if it means facing the kind of dangers that normally only soldiers are exposed to. This grim game claimed two more victims this week, Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, when they were hit by fire from government forces in Misrata, Libya.

The escalating civil war is drawing in experienced and not-so experienced photographers from round the world. In some ways it's the ideal war for photographers – colourful, anarchic rebels taking on a professional standing army. Compared with Afghanistan, the access to this conflict is easy. To cover the Afghanistan conflict in any meaningful way, photographers have to be embedded with the western armies, which means applying to and working with defence ministries and their press minders. In Libya, if you have the dollars and the guts, you just follow the road into Benghazi and from there to the ever-moving frontline. The inexperienced learn quickly in these situations, but they also know that, like bomb-disposal soldiers, they have to be near the action. Sometimes too near. As the most revered of all war photographers, Robert Capa, put it: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough."

But war is getting more and more difficult to cover. Battles are fought at longer distances, with long-range missiles, drone bombers and IEDs placed by fighters who melt into the landscape. Photographers are reduced to documenting the soldiers on one side or another. Many images of the Libyan conflict so far have been of extraordinarily dressed rebels posing with over-sized guns, which have lent a slightly misleading carnival aspect to the uprising. The news of Hetherington and Hondros's deaths has refocused this war on the blood that has quietly been spilling into the desert sands.

The Guardian's picture desk received a strong image last week of two rebel fighters posing with a gun. One had a lemon-coloured jumper on and big hair blowing in the wind, when body-armour and a helmet would have been so much more appropriate. This glamorisation of the combatants has always been a part of the documentation of war. Roger Fenton, sometimes thought to be the first British war photographer, went to the Crimea in the 1850s to take location portraits of the officers for their families back home. He soon realised that there was more that he could do with his camera and took some stark pictures of the aftermath of the battles. The glamour inevitably rubs off on the war photographers themselves and leads to the stereotype of a hard-drinking self-obsessive in a keffiyeh scarf. But the painful pictures, shot by their colleagues, of medics fighting to save Hetherington and Hondros strip away that sheen and reminds us of the high price some pay.

It's sometimes said that war photographers are driven by the need for the adrenaline fix of the ultimate gamble, but the best and the most successful seem pretty stable people. They recognise that the conflict they want to cover is probably the only current event that might yield truly memorable hard news images. They also know that they need to shoot pictures that have an urgency to get them published by war-weary editors back home, who are desperate to cheer up rather than depress their readers. In a recent BBC interview, Goran Tomasevic, a Reuters veteran, said: "I don't have any problem stepping back into my normal life; not at all. I just go out, eat a couple of steaks and drink a lot of beer. I check out the football and I'm happy." Tomasevic's attitude is typical of the leading news photographers – he knows he is taking risks, but he also takes precautions like any professional. Capa again: "The war correspondent has his stake – his life – in his own hands, and he can put it on this horse or that horse, or he can put it back in his pocket at the very last minute." The world (and not just its media) needs these people: we need to see and have conflicts recorded. The rest of us are lucky that we can tap into their enthusiasm and bravery however misplaced it sometimes may be. In the end, motives are not important, it's the image on the page or screen telling the unadorned truth that counts.

Hetherington and Hondros were working very differently. Hetherington had left a successful stills career behind to follow up his Oscar-nominated film documentary about the American Marines in Afghanistan and was shooting more video. Hondros was filing a daily stream of pictures to his agency, Getty Images. Indeed, the Guardian received more of his photographs just hours before he was killed. War photographers are increasingly expected to shoot video – and without the back-up that a TV crew might expect. But this is leading to a new sort of moving visual journalism that is more immediate and personal, without the reporter between the viewer and the action. It feeds off the strengths of the photographer, the need to get in close, the need to create a relationship with the fighters he's working alongside. All of the skills that are traditionally that of a war photographer; all those skills that Hetherington and Hondros had.


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War photographers are not addicted to danger

A Guardian war photographer explains the risks and rewards of working on the frontline

I'm not surprised Tim was in Misrata on Tuesday. A writer can be 60 miles away, in a completely different town, and still get something out of what's happening. But as a photojournalist, if you're half a mile from the action, you might as well be in a completely different country. You actually have to be there.

The first fighting it was possible to cover followed one road from Benghazi along the coast to Tripoli, backwards and forwards as Gaddafi's forces advanced and retreated. Journalists and photographers in cars followed rebel fighters in four-by-fours and drove towards the frontline. But because a lot of the fighting was in the desert, away from homes and schools, it was difficult to give a sense of the people involved in the conflict other than as men with guns. It was hard to get any humanity out of what was going on.

Misrata visually encapsulated the story better. The people there were surrounded by Gaddafi's forces very early in the civil war, and now they're trying to live their life in the middle of a conflict. So if you're covering Libya as a photographer, it's the most valid place to be. You're trying to explain the experience of people who don't have a choice about being there, including the combatants. People who are stuck there, suffering.

War photographers don't do this because they're addicted to danger. They're just like any journalist who wants to do their job well, and they see no romance in it. You certainly think about the risks – last year, Sunday Mirror photographer Phil Coburn lost both his legs and reporter Rupert Hamer was killed in Afghanistan – but ultimately you decide that it's more important to examine the world we live in. When you've got a camera in front of you, you focus on the work.

I last saw Tim a few weeks ago in Benghazi. He seemed happy and relaxed. It's his work that speaks most loudly and clearly about him. It shows a man who consistently invested in first-hand reporting over a number of years. He is remembered particularly for his film, Restrepo, and his World Press Photo award, but he had a long struggle to get there. It wasn't like he went out there and immediately it all happened. He had for a long time been telling the stories of people in war zones.

We need to continue to send reporters to places in conflict. The amount of war photojournalism being published by news organisations has shrunk dramatically over the years, but we should remember that we stop being news organisations when we stop going to the frontline. Other forms of journalism are important, but without someone actually going and talking to and taking pictures of people in these situations, our take on the world becomes more and more distorted.

Interview by Patrick Kingsley


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April 21 2011

Tim Hetherington obituary

An outstanding photojournalist and film-maker, he defined a generation of reportage

The photographer and film-maker Tim Hetherington, who has been killed at the age of 40 while covering the escalating violence in Misrata, Libya, was a leading light of his profession. The canon of work he bequeaths defines a generation of reportage.

His eye and ability for capturing on film some of the most disturbing events of the past decade was as relentless as it was unsurpassed. With a great sense of self-deprecation and humanity, Hetherington was driven repeatedly to explore the ragged, violent margins of society to bring back portraits of people profoundly affected by conflict.

Never an end in itself, for Hetherington the purpose of working in war was to understand better the lives of the civilians and soldiers caught up in it. Fundamentally a humanitarian, he worked not only for news organisations and magazines, but for human rights organisations, and undertook extensive projects for the US-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

In Misrata he wanted to record the plight of civilians. He died with them: an explosion on the town's mortally dangerous Tripoli highway – the frontline in the battle between forces loyal to the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the rebels trying to unseat him – killed him and his friend, the US photographer Chris Hondros. At least eight other civilians were killed in fighting that day, a fact Hetherington would have been at pains to ensure was not forgotten.

Careful not to be pigeonholed as a photographer or a film-maker, Hetherington worked across different, mixed visual media. His interest lay in creating diverse forms of visual communication and his work ranged from multi-screen installations, to fly-poster exhibitions, to handheld device downloads. Known for his long-term documentary work, Tim lived and worked in west Africa for eight years, reporting on social and political issues worldwide.

As a film-maker, he worked as both a cameraman and as a director and producer. Liberia: An Uncivil War (2004), the first documentary he worked on – as an assistant producer and cameraman – was also his first experience of filming warfare. Surviving repeated firefights and close-quarter combat, Hetherington captured iconic images of the Liberian rebels fighting to overthrow then-President Charles Taylor. When a rebel commander threatened to execute a doctor tending to injured rebel soldiers, suspecting him of espionage, Hetherington put himself in front of the condemned man and pleaded for his life, physically grabbing the pistol from the incensed commander. On that occasion humanity prevailed, and the doctor's life was saved.

An assistant producer and cameraman on the BBC's Violent Coast series (2004), about west Africa, cameraman on The Devil Came On Horseback (2007), about attacks across the border with Chad by Sudanese militia, and a producer/director on Channel 4's Unreported World – Nigeria: Fire in the Delta (2006), he made his debut as director of a documentary feature film with Restrepo (2010) – a cinematic release made with his fellow director Sebastian Junger about a platoon of forward-deployed US soldiers over the course of a year in Afghanistan's isolated Korengal Valley.

At times almost constantly in combat, and deeply affected by his time in Afghanistan, Hetherington said of his experience there: "When I'm filming, I'm very focused … You don't really have time to start examining your emotions when you're in the middle of this kind of situation. You kind of push them to a deeper place in your mind and examine them later. But war is traumatic. I've seen a lot of traumatic things happen in the Korengal Valley when we were there … I was with people who got killed and that was a very sad and upsetting thing to go through."

Awarded the Rory Peck award for features (2008) and the grand jury prize at the 2010 Sundance film festival, Restrepo was subsequently nominated for an Academy award. The film gave an unprecedented insight into the lives of US soldiers fighting and dying on that war's least reported frontline. Originally conceived as a short news piece for ABC News Nightline, it ultimately served, perhaps more than any other film from Afghanistan, to create an enduring connection between the US public and the experience of the US soldier. His most recent film, Diary, is a highly personal experimental short currently playing at film festivals.

Born in Liverpool, into what he described as a "normal, working-class family", Hetherington moved around the country, attending both state and private schools – including Stonyhurst college, a Catholic boarding school run on Jesuit principles, near Clitheroe, in Lancashire, before going to Oxford. He graduated from Lady Margaret Hall in classics and English in 1992, broke. But then, in a final gift to her grandson and, inadvertently to the wider world, Hetherington's grandmother left him £5,000 in her will with which to escape Britain's economic recession and travel for two years in India, China and Tibet, feeding his curiosity for the lives of others in unfamiliar circumstances. Particularly impressed by Mount Kailash, the Himalayan peak in Tibet that has religious significance for several faiths, he went on to Dharamsala, in northern India, where he met the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan exiles. Though brought up as a Catholic, Hetherington developed a Buddhist sensibility: his friend Piers Dunn recalls that, without any specific sense of mission, he took a thoughtful, considered view of everything he saw.

Of his desire to become a photographer, Hetherington wrote: "I had the epiphany when I came back [from India] and realised I wanted to make images. I then worked for three to four years, going to night school in photography before eventually going back to college." Returning to full-time education under his own steam when he was 26 to study photojournalism at Cardiff (1996-97) paid off: he found immediate employment as a staff photographer with the Big Issue, the magazine produced for sale by London's homeless. Its editor Becky Gardiner was soon impressed by the way he captured a church service for blind-deaf people, conducted by signing into each other's hands.

The Snapshot page of the magazine showcased street-based photography: Hetherington and his colleague Lena Corner wandered round London, stopping people to ask them for their photo – for which Hetherington showed real flair. Corner recalls him talking endlessly about "imagery, technology and how he had managed to rig up some sort of screen or other contraption in his flat, in his eternal search for new ways to present his pictures. He was really ahead of his time. Back then, he recognised the power of the moving image as well as the still. I remember him telling me he simply couldn't understand photographers who didn't want to capture the things they were witness to without a movie camera as well." From the Big Issue he moved to the Independent as a regular freelance photographer.

Soon a member of the photographic agency Network, he joined a small, dedicated, group of photojournalists often reporting on the world's trouble spots. In 1999 he went to Liberia – his first assignment in Africa. By 2002, he had also worked in Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali and Sierra Leone – developing a project about young men and political conflict in west Africa. Awards followed – including World Press photo of the year 2007 for his portrait of an exhausted US soldier in Korengal while working on assignment for Vanity Fair.

His project Healing Sport was published as part of the group project Tales from a Globalizing World (2003). Long Story Bit By Bit: Liberia Retold (2009) narrates recent history by drawing on images and interviews made over a five-year period. Infidel (2010), about a group of US soldiers in Afghanistan, continued his career-long examination of young men and conflict.

His work with the Milton Margai school for the blind in Freetown, Sierra Leone, was very important to him, and he was fascinated by the possibilities of braille photos. He was also a member of the UN panel of experts on Liberia.

Hetherington had recently moved to Brooklyn, New York. He is survived by his partner, Idil Ibrahim; his siblings, Guy and Victoria; and his parents, Alistair and Judith. The troubled corners of the world into which he shed the light of his lens are brighter because of him; the work he leaves is a candle by which those who choose to look, might see.

• Timothy Alistair Hetherington, photographer and film-maker, born 5 December 1970; died 20 April 2011


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Tim Hetherington: a brilliant journalist and a courageous, radical film-maker

In Restrepo and in his photography, Tim Hetherington put himself in harm's way to help convey the realities of a warzone

The question of the exact cause, and exact number, of non-combatant casualties in Libya has been put into sharp focus. One of the latest civilian victims is the award-winning photojournalist and Oscar-nominated film-maker Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Misrata just after tweeting that the attacks on the city were coming from Muammar Gaddafi and not Nato.

With Sebastian Junger he created the extraordinarily powerful documentary Restrepo, about a US platoon's mission to build and defend a forward outpost in the terrifyingly dangerous Korengal valley in Afghanistan. The outpost was named after an army medic, Juan Restrepo – killed on the first day of their tour of duty.

Hetherington and Junger show how this naming was an act of defiance as well as remembrance – a way in which a bunch of very scared young men could impose their identities on an alien, hostile landscape. It was also a way of containing and controlling their fear of death.

Hetherington's own terrible fate shows that the fear and danger with which his film was saturated was not a Hollywood device or a journalist's macho rhetoric. They were actually present.

Hetherington began his career as a stills photographer – though he and Junger appear genuinely to have shared the filming and directing responsibilities on Restrepo. It was an inspired collaboration, but Junger must surely have relied greatly on Hetherington's razor-sharp visual sense. The images in Restrepo are viscerally powerful. There's an incredible moment when the film, having shown us these soldiers getting aboard a helicopter, switches to their point-of-view as they look down into the valley from hundreds of metres above. It is a moment of pure vertigo: you can feel your heart plunge into your boots.

When these men were under fire, Hetherington was under fire, too, and arguably in more danger: he was armed only with a camera. But perhaps the film's most extraordinary scene was one that was (ostensibly) calm. One of the soldiers is being interviewed afterwards about his experiences. Mid-sentence, he stops; he can't carry on. It is not simply that he is emotional – he is in the middle of a flashback, actually caught on camera remembering horrifying events he had clearly suppressed until that moment.

To understand the realities of a warzone, to transmit those realities back to us, Hetherington put himself in harm's way: a brilliant journalist and a courageous, radical film-maker.


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Tim Hetherington: one of the finest photojournalists on the planet

Always at the heart of a story, even when made to photograph celebrities, this bold film-maker was a truly generous spirit

Tim Hetherington arrived at the Big Issue in the late 1990s, fresh out of college and landing in an editorial office that often felt like a dysfunctional college campus itself. We were a small crew – young and green and making the job up as we went along. If Tim thought he was joining the ranks of some idealistic guerrilla army (and I think, initially, that is exactly what he thought), he was too good natured – too abidingly generous of spirit – to let his disappointment show.

He was our staff reporter, rolling into the office with his big voice booming and his camera bags clattering. He had been living in squats and sported clotted dreadlocks and comfort clothes (sweatshirts, tracky bottoms) that he wore until they literally rotted off his body. Some of my colleagues were dismayed by this. "He sat opposite me on the tube," one reported in a scandalised whisper. "Legs apart, trousers all torn at the crotch. And he wasn't wearing any pants!"

Tim's pictures were extraordinary: rigorous, alive and shot on the fly. We sent him to snap homeless shelters and demonstrations, dockers' strikes and boxing gyms. Sometimes we would send him to photograph celebrities, too – an indignity he weathered with pained good humour. He couldn't quite see the point of it. Why photograph celebrities when there were so many proper stories playing out right now, under our very noses?

Tim Hetherington finally moved on from the Big Issue. He cut his dreads and bought a suit. He went to war zones, outraged then Liberian president Charles Taylor and found himself recognised as one of the finest photojournalists on the planet. But when I last saw him, in October, he was reassuringly just the same. His intense professionalism always went hand-in-hand with a childlike wonder at a world that never ceased to spark his interest.

It is perhaps the fate of all great photographers that they will eventually cross the camera line and start being photographed themselves. Prior to that last, gut-wrenching image that reared up on BBC News last night, the final photo I saw of Tim was taken at the annual Oscar nominees' lunch in February. Tim had been shortlisted for his devastating war documentary Restrepo, and this involved him rubbing shoulders with 150-odd Hollywood stars and industry players. Having once had to suffer photographing film celebrities, he had somehow conspired to become one himself.

The nominees had been arranged in rows and gathered around an oversized Oscar statue. Helena Bonham Carter sat far out on the wings. Colin Firth and Mark Ruffalo perched up in the gods. And there, bang in the centre, right by the statue stood our old staff photographer – a winner before the envelope was opened. It was a position that seemed to reflect how Hetherington lived his life: in the thick of things, at the heart of the matter, honouring the Robert Capa dictum that "if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough". He was never one to sit out on the sidelines.


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Tim Hetherington – a retrospective in pictures

British photojournalist and documentary maker Tim Hetherington has been killed in Misrata, Libya. The Oscar-nominee won numerous awards for his coverage of conflict zones around the world



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