“Here I Am: The Story of Tim Heatherington, War Photographer.” By Alain Huffman. Grove press.
Best known for his film, co-produced with Sebastian Junger, “Restrepo,” which was nominated for an Oscar
documentary, Tim Heatherington was an awarded war photographer who began his career in the Liberian Civil War and continued until his untimely death in Libya in 2011.
“Here I Am: The Story of Tim Heatherington, War Photographer,” by Alain Huffman is a record of that extraordinary career. Heatherington considered himself to be much more than a war photographer. He was a photojournalist and filmmaker who happened to film war stories. He was interested in telling a narrative of why young men were attracted to war. He had a sensitivity for his subject that other correspondents overlooked. He could get to the crux of his subject in subtle ways that other photographers struggled to find. He came to the conclusion that many young men were searching for their purpose in life, and that the war experience was the ultimate test of that resolve. He could have been speaking for himself as well.
“Restrepo” was an outpost in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan that served as a huge middle finger to the Taliban. It was named after a beloved fallen comrade, and what was evident more than anything else was the camaraderie of the soldiers, their closeness in battle, their sacrifices for each other. In one sequence, Heatherington filmed the soldiers asleep, giving them the innocence of children in the most difficult of circumstances. One of the more interesting anecdotes in the book was the stark difference between the deprivations suffered in the Korengal and the surreal atmosphere of the Hollywood elite when he and Junger were attending the parties for the Oscar nominees.
Huffman is exceptional at pointing out the pains taken by the photographers in combat zones. Many times their lives were on the line simply by getting to the battle, much less filming it. To say that they are a band apart would be an understatement. Some of them, of course, become addicted to the adrenaline rush of war, but in Heatherington’s case, he was quick to point out his fear of the experience. His friends had warned him against the danger in Libya, where many of the soldiers were inexperienced not only in troop movements but in the use of their weapons. There was a high risk of friendly fire added to the lethality of the government troops.
Where rebel fighters often seek to protect the journalists, because they know it’s the sympathy of the outside world that will be a large measure of their success, government forces often openly seek to kill the journalists so that the story will not be told. Heatherington felt compelled to tell the story. Unfortunately, it’s a story that gets re-told over and over with little variation. The capacity for human cruelty continues no matter how many times it’s told.
Heatherington’s death was tragic, no matter the circumstances. What compels the journalists to tell the story is the strong desire that such devastation stop. It’s a story that no amount of photos or films has been able change, only to situational diminish. But that in itself is a worthy venture. War correspondents are often overlooked as victims of the wars they document, but the increasing number of them killed in battle make it impossible to neglect.