Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer
By Alan Huffman
Grove Press, $25
Reviewed by TOM HENRY
This is not an environmental book. But it’s one in which all journalists, including SEJ members, can glean something about their craft – and perhaps themselves.
It’s a penetrating, gritty look at what drove one of the world’s top war photographers, British-born Tim Hetherington, to lose his life in his unwavering quest to uncover truth and achieve near-perfection in storytelling.
This book is, after all, about passion.
There are times in which American author Alan Huffman’s writing leaves readers with the impression that Hetherington’s fate was tragic, yet inevitable – not in a thrill-seeking way, but as a street-savvy photojournalist and humanitarian hard-wired to do incredible storytelling about those devastated by war.
With a stark, unsentimental writing tone, Huffman builds a crescendo which shows how Hetherington went beyond even his own inner psychological boundary.
After first limiting himself to war-time feature shots that offered the illusion of safety, Hetherington was seduced by the heartpumping, adrenalin-racing action of the front lines. He was driven to tell the story there.
Sure, there were times in which Hetherington came off slightly cocky with his almost invincible, rough-hewn persona. But as the story developed, it became more obvious he was so mentally locked in on his photographic mission that he became oblivious to danger. Hetherington, 40, died from a mortar blast while covering the Libyan Civil War on April 20, 2011. A recipient of the Alfred I. duPont Award, the broadcast equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, Hetherington received an Oscar nomination for his work as co-director with Sebastian Junger on “Restrepo,” the highly acclaimed 2010 documentary about the most dangerous outpost in Afghanistan.
Being embedded with troops in Iraq wasn’t good enough for him. Hetherington was part of an elite corps of photojournalists who would settle for nothing but the most daring conflicts. He set his own terms on how long to stay.
It’s inspiring stuff in this age of media downsizing and sanitized, corporate-driven journalism. That’s not to say everyone needs to put their lives on the line. But the writing gives a sense of fierce determination that can be applied to all genres, including environmental journalism.
Tom Henry is a Toledo-based journalist. He is SEJournal’s book editor, and serves on the SEJournal Editorial Advisory Board and SEJ’s Board of Directors
* From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Summer 2013. Each new issue of SEJournal is available to members and subscribers only; find subscription information here or learn how to join SEJ. Past issues are archived for the public here.