I ever met Tim
Hetherington, the renowned photojournalist and filmmaker who died today in Misrata,
Libya, he had already offered to help me. It was June 30, 2006, and I was on my
way to Liberia, a country just settling back into a degree of normalcy and peace
after decades of on-off civil war. I was an intern in Dakar, working for the New York Times West Africa bureau chief,
Lydia Polgreen, who had put me in touch with Tim as a helpful contact on the
ground. But I wanted to take a one-week trip to Monrovia to write a story about
military reform. I wrote to Tim a few days earlier, and he quickly replied.
"Beth, I can get you a driver. Let me know what time you'll arrive and
he'll be there," he offered in an email. "Are you coming in with a
photographer...perhaps we can do this [project] together if it suits you?"
Over the next week, Tim became a mentor and a friend. I tried to hide my age
from his noticing -- attempting to look and act as professional as I could, but
I'm sure he knew right away that I was barely 20-something. But without making me
feel anything less than his peer, he never forgot to check in during that week
I was in Monrovia. He was concerned for my safety, without being patronizing at
all. He didn't have any stake in my story; it certainly wasn't going to make the pages of
the Times. But he still helped out at
every turn. That was Tim. He didn't have to care. He just did.
I distinctly remember the first face-to-face conversation we had once I landed
in Monrovia. It was a Tuesday in July, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan
had come into town for the day to visit the newly elected (but not yet
inaugurated) President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. That morning, I'd made my way
across town from a friend of a friend's house toward the meeting point where
the press would begin the whirlwind day of diplomatic convoy-chasing. Despite
Tim's offer to arrange a car, I was on a budget of essentially nothing, and so
When I arrived, Tim was seated on a ledge outside a tall, old building that had
no windows and looked like a Manhattan skyscraper hollowed out by fire.
Ominous-looking gold letters on the side of the building described it as the
Ministry of Justice, but no one had worked there for years. Tim was well
dressed for a foreign correspondent, in nice slacks and collared, light-colored
suit shirt, his cameras strewn across various shoulders.
We began with the conversation that two journalists inevitably seem to have in
the field: What are you covering, where were you last.... Oh, so you must know
my friend so-and-so? Tim told me about the book he was working on at the time, Long Story Bit by Bit, about Liberia's long civil war. I
remember the excitement in his eyes as he told me the details. Many
photographers and journalists follow stories for the rush, the chance to be in
the thick of things, before they move elsewhere. Tim certainly did that; he
captured the most brutal stages of the war in vivid detail -- from the rebels'
organization in the bush to their assault on the capital. But Tim was not only piqued by war; he was
interested in the fate of Liberia -- in seeing this country recover. In short,
he was there because he gave a damn. And his mere presence proved his
commitment: Now that things were calming down in Liberia, most other
journalists were gone.
The day's events then began, and we caravanned back and forth, from the
presidential palace to the congressional chambers and back again, attending all
of Annan's and Johnson-Sirleaf's meetings amid the mob of local reporters who
swarmed every meeting with their microphones and cameras. Throughout the next
few days, I ran about the city reporting and didn't get the opportunity to sit
down with him again. But he called several times to make sure I had met the
contacts I needed.
Liberia, Tim went on to document other war-torn regions. He authored another
book, Infidel, from Afghanistan. He worked on the award-winning film The Devil Came on Horseback about Darfur,
and directed Restrepo. It wasn't
just that his photography was stellar. It also made you feel something visceral
inside -- a connection to the story that was some filtered bit of Tim's own experience.
"My work is about trying to get us to understand that we are connected and
trying to build bridges and understanding between people," Tim tweeted on
August 27, 2010.
But if Tim had become a giant in his field, he
was more down to earth than most anyone. If he noticed how young I looked, back
then, Tim never let on. He treated me like a colleague. That's the best tribute
I can give him today, amid the terrible news of his passing. He was one of my
first colleagues as a journalist working in Africa, and I'll always remember
his kindness as an exemplar of what it means to be a compassionate human being
in a place that demands the most from journalists.