I spoke by phone earlier today with Jeff Swensen. The Pittsburgh-based photographer was in Fayetteville, N.C., for the funeral of his close friend Hondros, the internationally acclaimed conflict photographer.
Hondros, 41, was a familiar face in Pittsburgh in recent years, largely due to Swensen. The two had been friends since their first day in graduate school at Ohio University, back in the 1990s. They'd been roommates, and Swensen says they were in continual contact over the years, as much as Hondros' globe-spanning travels allowed.
In some 15 years of war photography, Hondros, a Getty Images staffer, shot everywhere from Kosovo and Angola to Afghanistan, Iraq and the West Bank. In Pittsburgh, he lectured to college students, showed slides of his work at venues including Pittsbugh Filmmakers, and exhibited at Space Gallery.
Most memorably for me, in April 2009, I was part of a crowd of about 80 who gathered in Swensen's South Side studio to witness a half-hour performance in which a stunning series of Hondros' images from his six years in post-invasion Iraq were shown to the accompaniment of Bach's Partita in D Minor, played live on solo violin by Pittsburgh Symphony concert master Mark Huggins.
"In his pictures, you sense [Hondros] not just reacting, but also thinking." I wrote that in a blog post about the event dated April 20, 2009 – eerily, two years to the day before Hondros died after a mortar strike in Misrata, Libya, where he was on assignment. Killed in the same attack was Tim Hetherington, director of the film Restrepo.
Hondros' two best-known images exhibited multiple facets of his talent, and his humanity. One, depicting a young Liberian militiaman, shirtless, leaping in exultation after a direct rocket-launcher hit, demonstrated Hondros' own coolness in the face of fire and his facility for capturing the moment. The other is a wrenching photo of a young Iraqi girl wailing after the shooting of her entire family by American soldiers at a checkpoint, revealing Hondros' ability to capture emotional trauma despite the emotions he himself was surely feeling at the time.
The deaths of Hondros and Hetherington were national, even international news. A memorial service for Hondros at a church in Brooklyn on April 27 drew hundreds. Among them was his fiance, Christina Piaia; the two were scheduled to marry in August.
"He lives on in so many of us," says Jeff Swensen. "He was more than just his pictures."
"There wasn't a boring moment in Chris Hondros' life. He filled every minute with stuff to do," Swensen adds.
Swensen says the funeral, in Hondros' hometown of Fayetteville, was attended by friends from as far away as Istanbul, Turkey.
In Pittsburgh, a candlelight memorial for Hondros will be held at 7:30 p.m. Mon., May 2, on the West End Overlook. All are welcome.
Meanwhile, Christina Piaia has announced the creation of The Chris Hondros Fund, to provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photographer. Here is the address: The Chris Hondros Fund c/o Christina Piaia, Getty Images 75 Varick St., 5th Floor New York, NY 10013.