It took me a while before I finally forced myself to watch the documentary “Hondros.”
It’s about Chris Hondros, a war photographer with an international reputation who was killed in Libya in 2011. What made the documentary so hard to watch was that many years ago I worked with Hondros at the Troy Daily News and we remained friends for many years. It’s one thing to watch and even write about events like that. It’s another thing when the person involved is your friend.
The documentary was aptly named — most people seemed to always call Chris simply “Hondros” or sometimes “Hondo.” He came to the Troy Daily News as an intern and worked with TDN photographer Jim Witmer. When Witmer left, we called Hondros to take over his job. I guess we were a little spoiled back then — it’s hard to imagine how a newspaper the size of the TDN could have back-to-back photographers of such talent as Witmer and Hondros, but they were following an already established tradition of award-winning photographers at the TDN. As it turned out, there were more to come.
While Hondros was here, he hired Tyler Hicks as an intern. Not too much later, Spencer Platt came to the TDN as an intern. I mention them because they both eventually followed Hondros into the world of war photography. Tyler has won two Pulitzer Prizes and Spencer has won one.
I still remember the day Hondros came into my office to tell me he was leaving the newspaper. He wanted to try something different and he was going to New York. Tyler was there to take over as chief photographer. At the time, it didn’t seem like Hondros had any real plans about what he was going to do. I never thought that Hondros’ dream would lead him to battlefields and revolutions all around the world, including Bosnia, Iraq, Liberia, Egypt and, alas, Libya.
So it was with some trepidation that I went to Netflix to watch “Hondros.” There, as the story unfolded, were Tyler, Spencer and others talking about Hondros; film clips and photos about his career; even a brief moment picturing the front of the Troy Daily News. But the hardest part was watching interviews with Hondros where he explained his reasons for risking his life to tell a story.
The documentary is a testimony to how one person’s life can touch so many others. Chris Hondros not only influenced a large number of photographers who followed in his footsteps, but his photographs affected world opinion. He also took individual interest in the subjects of his photos.
As the film moved toward its unavoidable conclusion, I found myself wanting to hit the “pause” button and yell at the screen, “Hondo, just don’t go to Libya! Stay at home this time. Come back and visit us in Troy.” But there is no way to change history or turn back time.
The film wound its way to that day in April 2011 when Hondros and filmmaker Tim Hetherington were in Misrata, Libya, covering the revolution there. They were in the wrong place and ended up dying in a mortar attack.
When the documentary was over, I was left with the memory of the young guy who came to Troy and who impressed everyone with his photographs. But it wasn’t just that. We also were impressed with his compulsion to do the best job possible and his honest concern for the subjects of his photos and the people he worked with.
Back in 2011, those of us who knew him were stunned when we heard the news. At the same time, we weren’t actually surprised. We knew Hondros often put himself in harm’s way. It was just his way of doing things. The documentary helps us all understand why that was so important to him — and to the rest of the world.
Mortar shells do not distinguish between good guys and bad guys. Chris Hondros was one of the good guys. I believe the world is a little bit better because of his efforts — and what better thing can you say about someone? I would recommend taking the time to watch “Hondros” in part because Troy plays a role in the story, but even more because it provides a look into a world that many of us here never see.
David Lindeman is a Troy resident and former editor at the Troy Daily News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.