This post begins with a photograph of Anton Hammerl, taken a few days before he was shot and killed in Libya, in the spring of 2011. Let’s look at it for a moment. Then let your eyes roam. Now listen to the story behind the display above.
A few days after the top photo was made, by Unai Aranzadi, Anton was shot by forces fighting for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi on the road near Brega. The men who wounded him left him to die. They rounded up three other journalists traveling in his group and abruptly drove away, abandoning a heavily bleeding and unarmed man to the desert. The Qaddafi government lied about his fate, repeatedly telling official and diplomatic enquirers that he was alive and in custody with his peers. Only when his colleagues were released from prison, after a season of negotiation lasting more than six weeks, did the truth break free.
Anton’s death was one of the Libyan revolution’s uncountable horrors. His remains have not been found. And as is the case with almost all stories of violence, his story does not end at the scene of the crime, or neatly. It was not simply a tale of battlefield chaos, anonymous villains and the cruel and unnecessary end of a decent man. Its effects reverberate, and will for at least a generation.
Why? Because Anton was survived by his wife, Penny Sukhraj, and their three young children, who live in London. He was a freelancer, not a staff photographer for a newspaper, wire service or magazine. This means that his family — which has lost him as a husband, father and breadwinner — has no institutional support.
And this is a reason for the silent auction, organized by Friends of Anton and to be hosted by Christiane Amanpour, that will be held next week at Christie’s in New York. Scores of prints by many of the world’s best known photographers - Robert Capa, Platon, Joao Silva, Kate Brooks, Tyler Hicks, Sebastio Salgado, and many more - will be offered. They are scenes from abroad, scenes from here in the states, portraits, landscapes, and much more. They come from quiet glades and vicious firefights, from the desert, the forest, the cities and the sea. Among them are works by Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington, who were killed a few weeks later in Libya, too, also by pro-Qaddafi troops.
Don’t rely on the small sample here. Go to the Friends of Anton site and look. Some of these photos could hold your gaze for hours, and will still seem fresh should you look back in an hour, a week or a year.
The proceeds from their sale will go to Penny and her children. The last two years have been nightmarish for the cadre of journalists who worked as Anton did. Naturally, people ask: What can I do? In my own case, frankly, I do not think I can afford one of these prints at the auction, and I am already blessed with crowded walls, as friends I work beside have over the years given me prints from the shared work, which hang in the shed where I am typing this today. A black-and-white print of the portrait by Tyler, of an Afghan National Police officer in Uruzgan Province in 2007, is looking down on me from my right, from above a shelf of munitions scraps. The image by Chris Hondros, made on the road not far from where Anton was killed, in the last week’s of Chris’s life, is tucked beside my work bench, waiting to be dropped off at the frame shop in town. The other frames will have to be rearranged to make space for it.
My shed, in short, is out of wall. So we decided to do something else. Late last month the Overseas Press Club, to my and most everyone else’s surprise, gave me an award, which came with a $1,000 prize. That money was unexpected, which meant it was unbudgeted; Suzanne and I had not been counting on it for raising our own children. So Suzanne and I talked. We knew well that although the prize was awarded in my name, this was in many ways an embarrassment, because I do not work alone. I work for a bank of gifted and committed editors, and with people in conflict zones who share their stories or tips with me, or help me with rides, advice, bunk space and translations. All of them make each day, and each story, come together. Throughout it all I wander the beats side-by-side with photographers, just like Anton, who share each risk and every step. It is with them that the best work has flowed. And often when I work, our family is at risk, just like Anton’s was.
For these reasons, and others, this week Suzanne and I donated the $1,000 from the Overseas Press Club to Friends of Anton. It is a small thing, barely a drop when considered against a single-parent family’s needs. But we hope it might help, and that you will help, too. If any of you can afford the time or a few of your dimes, please consider visiting Friends of Anton on-line. Then consider attending the auction or making an absentee of telephonic bid.
Great photography outlasts those who do it. In Anton’s case, so very sadly so. Those who carry away these prints will have that work, and will have helped good people, too.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
The photo at top is of Anton, by Unai Aranzadi. The bottom six images, clockwise from upper left, are by Tyler Hicks, Chris Hondros, Tim Hetherington, Joao Silva, David Burnett and Robert Capa. Courtesy of Friends of Anton.
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