The last couple of years must have been rough for Tyler Hicks. The Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, who has covered wars from Kosovo to Afghanistan, and has done extensive photo reporting all over Africa, was abducted for four days in March 2011, in Libya, with three other colleagues. And, while crossing the border from Turkey to Syria, his friend and uber-talented correspondent Anthony Shadid died in his arms.
Presumably, when making the choice to become a war photographer, abduction and death, of self and/or colleagues, must be taken into account as job hazards – still, the reality must be harder and more complex to deal with than the hypothetical one signs up for. The recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the Arab Spring, have taken the lives of more photo-journalists and correspondents than ever before. The figures that Reporters Without Borders provide speak to a grim reality:
89 journalists killed in 2012
67 journalists killed in 2011
58 journalists killed in 2010
They get close and they put themselves at risk to tell us a story. In the case of photographers, the art of training the eye for that perfect shot that will make us understand a moment or a cause, will literally put them in the crossfire.
When the New York Times, printed paper style, lands on my kitchen table every morning, with a reassuring thud, it’s the front page photo my eyes gravitate to. I have been stopped in my tracks more than once by photographs that do not need captions or accompanying articles to tell a story. The starving Somali child covering his face, as if in shame, while waiting for deliverance, in the form of either help or death. The US Marines atop a pile of rubble, covered in dust, narrating, in just one shot, of sleepless nights, rushing adrenaline and precarious living conditions; and then the borderless cruelty of humankind.
“I was traveling with one of the first groups of Northern Alliance soldiers to reclaim Kabul from the Taliban when the soldiers captured a wounded Taliban prisoner,” Mr. Hicks wrote in 2002. “Without remorse, with something strangely like joy, they quickly executed him before continuing their mission south. In that moment, the fact that they were soldiers did not seem relevant. I saw our shocking lack of humanity. They — like me, like the man they shot — were all human beings. Those who died and killed there did so not because of their passion to fight, but because they had been ordered to.”
As a long-time NYTimes’ subscriber and avid reader of most things Middle East related, I have been following Mr. Hick’s work for quite some time and I am often awed by the humanity and the brutality that can coexist in the same shot. There is an intrinsic lack of judgement in most of his war photos while his reportage from the Somali famine is full of tenderness and heartache.
Sorting through the photos and picking those I wanted to showcase for our weekly art post was a difficult task – not so much for the quantity of available material but because, after a while, the content started weighing on me. I began to write captions for each image, identifying the year and place and then I reconsidered. Each photo could be anywhere, given the right circumstances. Each photo tells its own story, that needs no words. And, for anyone with a conscience, it’s impossible to look away.
For a beautiful gallery of photos and an in-depth analysis of Mr. Hicks’s work, read the NYTimes’ blog
All photos are copyright of Tyler Hicks/The New York Times