Tim Hetherington’s legacy: A mother’s perspective on her son’s war photography


View Photo Gallery: The late filmmaker Tim Hetherington’s first posthumous solo exhibition will be available for viewing at the Yossi Milo Gallery in New York through May 19.

“We’re not ready for this.”

“I felt like I was like fish in a barrel.”

“Did everybody from the country come to this valley? Is nobody else fighting anymore? Is every bad guy in my face?”

These are the voices from conflict photographer and film director Tim Hetherington’s Oscar-nominated documentary, “Restrepo.” Fired upon daily, Restrepo was one of the most dangerous outposts in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. Soldiers descended into its treacherous folds fully believing they would never emerge.

Now, take that same fear, and imagine you haven’t had years of combat training. Then imagine you have no gun and that your field of vision is reduced to a pinhole. You are a war photographer.

“I didn’t really worry,” Judith Hetherington, mother of “Restrepo” co-director Tim Hetherington said. “I didn’t because I don’t think we can do anything about it. Tim had chosen his path.” In nine days, it will be the one-year anniversary of his death in Libya. Thursday will be the opening of his first posthumous solo exhibition.

Tim Hetherington, who won World Press Photo of the Year in 2007, made international headlines when he and Getty photojournalist Chris Hondros were killed during an attack by Moammar Gaddafi’s forces while photographing on rebel front lines in Misurata, Libya, on April 20, 2011.


Libya, April 9, 2011. (Self-portrait by Tim Hetherington./©TIM HETHERINGTON / MAGNUM)

Tim Hetherington on crutches in London on Dec. 20, 2007, after breaking his leg while shooting the Afghan war documentary “Restrepo.” He went back to Afghanistan and finished the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award. (Michael Kamber)

New York gallery owner Yossi Milo felt a huge responsibility for the work and wanted the show to be as closely aligned with Tim’s vision as possible. Because he only knew Tim briefly before his death, Milo did so by following sample prints and crops and with input from Magnum photographer and friend Chris Anderson. The result is a stunning view of Tim at his best.

First, there are Tim’s photos of rebels and civilians caught in the dragnet of the Liberian civil war. (It should be noted that for his four years of coverage, former president Charles Taylor issued an execution order for him and fellow journalist James Brabazon. This could be read as a sign that you are doing important work.)


Elliott Alcantara, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 2008. (Tim Hetherington/COURTESY OF YOSSI MILO GALLERY, NEW YORK)

Michael Kamber, a close friend and fellow war photographer, said Tim was always looking at the bigger picture. “A lot of us were looking at guys shooting guns, and he was doing a much broader thing. I think in Afghanistan, too, Tim was taking photos that were just as much about manhood, brotherhood.”

Milo said that future exhibitions of Tim’s photography and video work in Libya and the rest of his vast body of work would be forthcoming.

Although Tim was a brilliant visual mind, many will remember him foremost for his humanitarianism and selflessness. “I certainly would like to emulate him,” Judith said. “I find myself in his shoes all the time.”

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