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A War Photographer's View of Iraq
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A War Photographer's View of Iraq

Iraq

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One night in Iraq led to a searing image of war from photographer Chris Hondros. He was on patrol with U.S. troops when a car approached. Soldiers fired warning shots. The car ignored those warnings. More warning shots, then a quick volley of bullets stopped the car. A soldier shouted civilians. And before turning to the rest of the story, I want to welcome Chris Hondros of Getty Images to our program. Hello, good morning.

Mr. CHRIS HONDROS (Photographer, Getty Images): Hello, Renee.

MONTAGNE: What happened next?

Mr. HONDROS: Well, the car, you know, had been shot up and it was still moving on its momentum against a curb. I could hear the sound of children's voices from inside of the car and screams and cries. And I knew that there had been a, you know, horrible mistake and that there was a family inside. There were six children in all in the car. And the parents were in the front, and they had been killed instantly. The children had survived and one was shot.

But they were all covered in blood and so they weren't sure who had been injured and who not. So they brought them over to the sidewalk, and it's one image of a little girl terrified standing next to a soldier that has been most widely distributed of that series.

MONTAGNE: There are photographs of wounded children, and sadly you see them all the time now. But have you figured out what made this one stand out?

Mr. HONDROS: Well, it's such a, in some ways, a straightforward news image. I mean here's a blood splattered little girl, you know, crouched next to the boots of a tall U.S. soldier. And people have cited things like the stark lighting which is sort of reminiscent of schools of painting and the streaks of blood on her cheeks which reminded some people of crucifixion imagery, tears of blood.

I mean we share a huge visual memory bank, mostly through painting and other images in history. And, you know, I think when a modern photograph taps into those, sometimes very subliminally, it makes people respond. You know, here's this little girl essentially all alone in the world now.

MONTAGNE: Yeah, you know, I think that actually is it. Almost like she's in the middle of nowhere.

Mr. HONDROS: And, you know, and people ask me some time, like was anybody trying to comfort the girl or something like that. And these kinds of situations are not like the movies where somebody is shot and then it's everybody knows that they've been shot and they sort of heroically go on. I mean the soldiers at that point were just doing medical care and trying to figure out exactly what they could do to preserve those children's lives.

MONTAGNE: You've been writing a blog with some of your more recent photos. There's one I'm looking at right now and you title it "A Drive Through Baghdad." Every photograph that goes along with this particular blog entry, what do they have in common?

Mr. HONDROS: Well, I did a series while I was there last time of photographing through the windows of Humvees, and it's almost like looking at a TV or something. You know, looking out this three-inch-thick pane of glass. It's also a bizarrely interesting way to get some really candid shots of Iraqi culture. Because if there's one thing that Iraqis are just inured to at this point, it's Humvees driving through their midst.

People shopping, people chatting. I think I had a man and a woman, at least it looked like they were flirting a little bit. Now, I didn't actually - when I'm driving through Baghdad with our own drivers, when I'm not embedded, you know, we don't go through Humvees or anything. But I also don't have any real photos of that because that would be quite dangerous. So we illustrated the blog entry about me driving around in Baghdad with our drivers with some of these photos of driving through the Humvee windows.

MONTAGNE: And then what's interesting about your blog entry is it's completely mundane. You're talking to your driver, and you call him Wadeen(ph).

Mr. HONDROS: Yeah. I think it's important at this point, four years into the war now, that people understand that there is a sort of mundaneness about Iraq. You know, there's a vision sometimes of Baghdad being a 24-hour-a-day, every-square-inch war zone. Wadeen Haree(ph), you know, had bad eyesight and he'd saved up some money to get laser eye surgery and he was telling me all about it. And that's the kind of thing that you talk to with Iraqis. You know, and I tried to emphasize that in my blog.

MONTAGNE: But I mean I'm reading it, you're responding in the same way while you're talking to him, laser eye surgery? You did a double take.

Mr. HONDROS: I did. I wasn't thinking you could get that in Baghdad. But he'd saved up his money to fly to Jordan and have it done there.

MONTAGNE: This is sort of quite a sweet moment in its way. Just a simple life goes on moment. But next, an image that you wrote about also on your blog, or a set of images, where in this case, thank goodness, you know, it's clear from the beginning that the family is going to be okay for the most part. They've been hit with shrapnel, rockets have come down in their neighborhood.

Let me ask you if you would read a little from your blog entry. And it begins with two of the children were stabilized.

Mr. HONDROS: Two of the children were stabilized. The oldest, a girl of 10, was seen positively Churchillian in her stoicism. Replacing her tears with wide-eyed wonder and only letting out a yelp when confronted with a needle for her IV. But the youngest, a boy of only a year old, would not stop crying. Eventually, the mother crawled on the gurney with him and he calmed some.

MONTAGNE: And that was in Baghdad's main military surgical hospital.

Mr. HONDROS: You know, the mother there, she was wounded herself. She's bleeding from the temple and her traditional dress was stained in blood. It was, you know, incredibly inspiring, such a, you know, pure distillation of a mother's love.

I also thought it was interesting because, you know, we're so used to Iraqi women in this sort of covered and fairly demure ways. But, you know, this kind of shows a little bit of their reality. She wasn't worried if had her hair covered and she was running around telling the doctors what to do practically. You know, so we don't see that enough sometimes in our journalism because it's so hard to access certain areas of their lives.

MONTAGNE: Your pictures - a woman holding up a finger, she's obviously just voted, empty boots at a forward-operating base.

Mr. HONDROS: Sure.

MONTAGNE: Is there a picture that you keep on your wall from Iraq?

Mr. HONDROS: No, actually. And, you know, I think also we're so close to Iraq, you know? And I don't think you would have had a picture of D-Day, you know, the day after the Normandy invasion. (Unintelligible) if I could have a 16 by 20 of Robert Capa's famous photo of the soldiers wading to the surf, I would gladly put it up.

You know, so I think you need a little bit of distance away from some of these events. History will probably decide which pictures from Iraq endure on that level. I'll be curious to see which ones they are.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us and sharing this with us.

Mr. HONDROS: My pleasure, Renee. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Chris Hondros is an award-winning staff photographer for Getty Images. He spoke to us from New York. He has just returned from his ninth tour in Iraq. In an audio slideshow at npr.org, Chris Hondros discusses the events surrounding his most famous photographs.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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