Saturday, March 8, 2014

Getty photographer Chris Hondros and Sarah Palin: A look back in time, and a look beneath the surface

Photo: Getty photographer Chris Hondros, while on assignment in Afghanistan 

By Patrick

This is a post which I wanted to write for quite some time. When I read today that Getty Images has opened large parts of their photo archive for non-commercial bloggers, I realized that the right time for this post has finally arrived. I am a great fan of photojournalism, and I am particularly impressed by the work of war photographers who not only risk their life during their assignments, but also manage to capture war in such intense ways that it becomes impossible to "look away" from horrific events which are happening all over again in our world.

Chris Hondros, an award-winning photojournalist who worked for Getty Images for several years, was one of the best, most prolific war photographers of the last decades. From his large body of work, two photos in particular became iconic:

First, the haunting photo of a little girl in Iraq, crying after her parents had been killed at an American checkpoint in 2005. The New York Times published an article in 2011 about this girl, Samar Hassan, in the aftermath of Chris Hondros's tragic death. The girl actually never had seen this famous photo until 2011.

Second, the image of a government fighter in Liberia, taken in 2003. In an interview with NBC, Chris Hondros explained the background of his famous picture from Liberia, and tells the story of what happened afterwards. Gawker reported how Chris Hondros later met the man again, his name being Joseph Duo, and kept in touch with him, even financially supported his education. See also this very details report.

However, Chris Hondros is not with us any more. In an unspeakably tragic incident, he was killed together with the famous British-American photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Tim Hetherington while on assignment during the civil war in Libya on April 20, 2011. Tim Hetherington had received an Acadamy-Award nomination for his war documentary "Restrepo." For the details, see this report by the New York Times, and the detailed report by the Daily Mail. In addition, one can find on youtube a report about the perspective of photographer Guy Martin, who was seriously injured in this event (see also this report). A CNN-report about Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros and their tragic deaths can be found here.

An excellent overview about many articles writing about this tragic event and about Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington can be found here.

An impressive overview about the work of Chris Hondros was published by the Wall Street Journal. Another good overview with several recent photos can be found at The Guardian.

A selection of photos by Chris Hondros can be viewed here, also here, and of course one can simply search for his pictures on the website of Getty Images.

Chris Hondros had a special ability to capture people and events in a way that do not just depict the "outside", but which also show a "hidden side", feelings, emotions, thoughts, which are lingering beneath the surface. This also became apparent when Chris Hondros took pictures of Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign. One of these photos even became very famous on the blogs during the years which followed, but looking back at all of his published photos of Sarah Palin, it is incredibly fascinating to see how he tried to discover Sarah Palin's, let's say "complex" personality, how he tried to look beneath the surface, and produced some striking, sometimes even unusual images.

In 2008, back in a different world, so to speak, Sarah Palin suddenly had become the "pretty face" of the Republican party. She was its shooting star, and it is certainly not an exaggeration to say that she captivated the hearts and minds of many GOP-supporters. Later, Sarah Palin became the GOP's worst nightmare as the rather ugly face of the "stupid party", but when she first appeared on the national scene, many people undoubtedly were fascinated by her, and supported her enthusiastically.

Chris Hondros managed to capture this initial enthusiasm in many of his photos during the campaign - but he achieved more: In some of his photos he also managed to capture aspects of Sarah Palin's personality which only later became more apparent to the general public: Her notorious love of the limelight, her insecurity, even her darker side.

For example, on September 23, 2008, we saw her "pretty face":

We saw her fans:

In another photo, which later became very popular on the internet, Chris Hondros captured something else: A darker side of Sarah Palin, surely one of the most striking photos which were ever taken of her:

Switch back to "friendly":

However, some of the most unusual photos ever taken by a professional photographer of Sarah Palin were snapped by Chris Hondros when Sarah Palin faced the enthusiastic crowds during the events.

Two days later, on September 25, 2008, Sarah Palin was off to another event, dressed in "serious grey":

Later, together with Cindy McCain during the event - nicely surrounded by "glitter", a great shot in my opinion:

Another one:

Then, Chris Hondros did something very interesting: He apparently thought that he needed to abandon the usual rules in order to appropriately depict Sarah Palin. It is almost as if he intensely searched for the "essence" of her character, shooting two pictures which show only half of her face. I don't think that any media outlet has ever published these photos, but they are available on the website of Getty Images. These photos are not "cropped", Chris Hondros really took them like that:

I especially like this one:

Then, the following photo - this is just pure genius in my opinion, he captured her personality brilliantly:

Finally, Chris Hondros met Sarah Palin again on November 2, 2008. This event also produced several striking images:

Nicely with the teleprompter:

Finally, this photo, which perfectly captures Sarah Palin's love of the limelight:


Sarah Palin and Chris Hondros - two American stories, both tragic in their own ways. Two people who encountered each other only briefly, but I think that the results are truly memorable.

See this link for all published photos of Sarah Palin by Chris Hondros at Getty Images.


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