Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
I was brought up on grainy black and white stills of the Vietnam War, then the Biafran conflict and the civil war in Northern Ireland. Some of the best images of this period were shot by a British war photographer, Don McCullin, who hailed from a working class background in London. His autobiography Unreasonable Behaviour, is an interesting chronicle – I must return to it.
A more than worthy bearer of his mantle was Tim Hetherington – like McCullin a rangy Brit, who many women found irresistible. Hetherington’s name first came to my attention three years ago when the film of which he was co-director, Restrepo, was released. Like nothing else available at the time, it was a warts and all narrative of his sojourn with a US platoon in one of Afghan’s most dangerous areas, the Korengal Valley. I arranged one of the many screenings of this epic film, which won an award at the Sundance Festival, and was later nominated for an Oscar.
Here I Am is the tale of (most of) Hetherington’s career and his death. Often inspiring, almost always moving, it pays testament to a remarkable man. He is portrayed as a man of immense humanity: much of this derives from his early experiences. The book starts with Hetherington’s work in Liberia and Monrovia, where we are introduced to characters such as Black Diamond (a female rebel leader) and General Butt Naked. It is soon apparent that Hetherington has a rare talent to strike up a relationship with people from the most diverse backgrounds. It can be no coincidence that the bulk of his photography, even in a war zone, is of portraits rather than simplistic combat footage. He is unaffected by the harsh living conditions near or at the front line, however there are times when he struggles to retain an emotional distance from his subjects. Early on his addiction to being in warzones, and his burning desire to tell the story of usually the rebel side, become very apparent.
The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer
Alan Huffman, Atlantic, 2 May 2013
ISBN: 9781 611856095
Fighting at Restrepo: NB flip flops and Hesco
The Restrepo period is described at length, partly because Restrepo’s co-director, Sebastian Junger, chronicled it comprehensively in his own book, War. It is notable that Hetherington soon strikes up a close bond with this diverse bunch of US soldiers. He earns their respect when he struggles down the mountain unaided after breaking his ankle when their patrol endures a particularly gruesome contact. The reasons for why the outpost was named Restrepo are fully explained. There the troops “came under daily fire, sometimes three or four times a day, from distances as close as fifty yards, inside a small fortification delineated by Hesco containers and sandbags that the soldiers filled with rocks that they’d laboriously broken with pickaxes in 100-degree heat.”