Midtown: Community

War photography of late N.C. State alum comes to Raleigh

A tiny Iraqi girl squatting in the shadows wails after the death of her parents.

A big American soldier on patrol dwarfs two pigtailed Iraqi girls sitting next to him on the couch.

A young Liberian militia fighter hangs frozen in mid-jump after firing at rebel forces, celebrating, gun still cocked against one shoulder.

Late Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist Chris Hondros had an eye for showing the human side of conflict on his many assignments to war zones in the Middle East and Africa. A retrospective of the N.C. State alumnus’ work will be on display at Artspace starting Friday.

“They’re more sensitive than general, direct conflict photographs,” said Christina Piaia, who is president of the Chris Hondros Fund and was engaged to Hondros. “It’s more...what it really means to the people in these places, who are either living there or fighting in the war on behalf of their country.”

Hondros, a photographer for Getty Images, was fatally wounded in Misurata, Libya, on April 20, 2011, while covering the conflict between dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and Libyan rebels.

In collaboration with the Gregg Museum at N.C. State University, the Artspace exhibit includes Hondros’ work from assignments in Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq. The photos date back to his early days as a conflict photographer, up through photos he made in Libya a few days before he was killed.

“It’s moving work,” said Mary Poole, executive director of Artspace. “It gives us a sense of closeness to what’s going on. It builds a relationship between the viewer and the images. In a way, it makes everything very real.”

Though the Artspace exhibit officially opens Friday, a preview to benefit the Chris Hondros Fund takes place Thursday night for a $20 suggested donation.

The fund was established after Hondros’ death to honor and support the work of photojournalists, educate the public about that work and raise awareness of the problems faced by those working in conflict zones.

Born in New York, Hondros grew up in Fayetteville and studied English literature at N.C. State. He worked his way up as a photojournalist at newspapers including the Fayetteville Observer and went to work for Getty Images in 2000. He was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2004 and won war photography’s highest honor, the Robert Capa Gold Medal, in 2006.

Piaia describes Hondros as a kind and generous man who was a dedicated mentor of young photojournalists, with a quiet confidence that stayed humble even as his career soared.

When he returned from covering conflict zones, Hondros considered himself just another newspaper photographer, Piaia said, happy to cover daily news assignments ranging from the New York Stock Exchange to pictures illustrating the weather.

His work was often dangerous, but Hondros spoke and wrote of the importance of documenting what was happening across the world.

“One of the ongoing themes in my work...and one of the things I believe in, is a sense of human nature, a sense of shared humanity above the cultural layers we put on ourselves,” Hondros wrote. “Clearly we are all quite similar.”