Late Photographer Saw The Inner Lives Of Soldiers

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A year ago this week, photojournalist Tim Hetherington posted this message on Twitter:

Those words ended up being some of Hetherington's last; he was killed in Misrata, along with fellow photographer Chris Hondros.

Just a few months before his death, Hetherington was nominated for an Academy Award for Restrepo, the Afghan War documentary he co-directed with journalist Sebastian Junger.

Hetherington started shooting the film in 2007, while embedded with members of the 2nd Platoon Battle Company of the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade. The unit was posted in the Korengal Valley, one of the most remote and volatile parts of Afghanistan.

Some of the photographs Hetherington took over the many months he spent living with American soldiers in the Korengal are on display at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

Besides the still photographs, there's also a video installation Hetherington put together, which he called Sleeping Soldiers. In it, scenes of combat flash next to still images of soldiers sleeping; grenade blasts and the voices of soldiers create a surreal, dream-like soundtrack.

Mike Kamber, one of Hetherington's closest friends and a fellow photographer, told Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin that the installation shows what made Hetherington stand apart from war photographers who are just looking for the quintessential combat shot.

"I went over there to take pictures of guys doing raids and firing guns, but Tim was interested in their interior lives," Kamber says. "He was interested in what was going on in their heads."

Sleeping Soldiers was Hetherington's way of showing that interior world of soldiers mixed with the exterior violence they faced every day, Kamber says.

"I don't think there's any other photojournalist in the world who could have done a piece like that, or has done a piece like that," he says.

Kamber says what made Hetherington different was that he was incredibly curious, and that he wasn't content with traditions and putting photos where people expected them to be put, like a magazine or newspaper. Hetherington wanted to bring his work into art galleries and schools, he says. He would even wheat-paste his photos on city walls.

"He was constantly trying to push boundaries in a way that I've never seen before," Kamber says. "Tim was different."

NPR's Martin spoke with Hetherington in 2008, after one of his photographs from Afghanistan was named World Press Photo of the Year.

In that interview, Hetherington said the soldiers never controlled him or told him what he could shoot when he was living with them. They would tell him just to let people at home know what being in Afghanistan was really like and show what they were going through.

"Therefore, I had a responsibility to live as closely as possible to them and what happened to them," he said.

Tim Hetherington: Sleeping Soldiers is on display at the Corcoran Galley of Art in Washington, D.C., until May 20.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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