Photojournalist Andrea Bruce received a surprising e-mail from Getty photographer Chris Hondros on a rainy evening in Mexico City, inviting her to his wedding. She tapped out a quick message saying that she was happy for him and would be excited to go.
In the morning, a new message was waiting for her from a friend in Libya. She had seen Hondros in the hospital after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a mortar attack by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces. He was revived twice, then drifted into a coma before dying at 10 p.m. on April 20, 2011, the New York Times reported. Photographer Tim Hetherington died in the same attack.
Following Hondros’s death, his fiancé, Christina Piaia, formed the Chris Hondros Fund. On Thursday, Bruce will be honored in New York with a grant from the fund.
Piaia, an attorney and former photo editor, said the fund will honor those whose work embodies the spirit of Hondros’s photojournalism. “I think in many ways there are parallels between Andrea’s work and Chris’,” she said, “in that she tirelessly continues to document stories whether or not they happen to be in the forefront of what the news is reporting and I think she does that at great risk to herself.”
Bruce will receive $20,000 and will propose to the foundation a project exploring the idea of democracy in the countries that she has been covering for the past 10 years. Dominic Bracco II was a finalist for the award, and will receive a $5,000 grant.
Bruce’s work shows an ability to capture the most emotion-drenched split seconds and textures in the viewfinder. Some photographers focus on offbeat framing and slink around the edges of fully-formed expressions, but Bruce shows moments that force the viewer into confrontation. For example, in Bruce’s heartbreaking photo essay on female genital mutilation in Iraq (see part of it in the gallery above), it is almost impossible for the viewer to turn away from the silent scream of the young girl. But her work never feels labored or gratuitous.
Bruce’s work has an almost aural quality to it: Drops of water slap the ground as veiled women attend a sunny neighborhood protest. A mother whispers barely audible words encouraging to her daughter to play. The multi-sensory experience makes the subjects come alive even more.
There is also a comforting, universal quality to her photos. The trust that she clearly develops with her subjects transfers to the viewer, persuading you that the subject is your sister, your mother, your soldier, and your friend. In Bruce’s world, everyone speaks the same language.
Bruce, who was a photographer at the Washington Post for eight years, hopes her upcoming project will speak to Hondros’s character. “He understood the meaning of journalism and photography and our purpose: to try to connect cultures and fight apathy…I’ve always felt that this is my purpose too,” she said.
The two became close friends over the first few years of covering the Iraq War. It was the first time many of the photographers had experienced war, and they became a tight-knit group.
Bruce and Hondros carried on long discussions about religion, politics, and photography while waiting for military press conferences or relaxing after a grueling day poolside at the Hamra Hotel in Baghdad. “We shared a lot of the same beliefs, but for some reason we would always argue, which made me feel very close to him…he was like a brother,” Bruce said.
Hondros was far from the only journalist to die covering the Arab Spring. Photographer Anton Hammerl, journalist Anthony Shadid (also formerly of the Washington Post), journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Remi Ochlik died while on assignments in Syria and Libya.
Since the beginning of the Arab Spring, 23 journalists have died in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria, according to the Committee to Project Journalists. Twenty-four have died covering war in Afghanistan; 175 have died covering the war in Iraq.
Bruce is now in Brazil, where she is shooting a story about the empowerment of women. Despite losing Hondros and other colleagues over the years, Bruce said in a Skype interview, she will return to Afghanistan in one week. She plans to continue to shoot stories about the lives Afghans and Iraqis as the U.S. reduces its presence and carry on Hondros’s legacy.