The People in My Neighborhood: In Memoriam, Chris Hondros

The Daily Life Text

I’m still pretty shaken up by the death of Getty Images photographer Chris Hondros.

When I met him, I was a fairly good way through my short-lived freelance editorial career, and, arguably, at the peak of it. I was a contributing editor for Hooked on the Outdoors magazine, about a half-year away from getting hired on to work in advertising sales, and I was loving every minute of it.

It was early fall of 2000,¬†and I pitched a story to the now-defunct Hooked about the surfing scene in New Jersey. I called it “Surfing the Right Coast.” My editor John liked it enough that he sent me to cover it as a feature and assigned an up-and-coming photographer named Chris Hondros to cover it with me. Chris was already working with Getty at the time, and I picked him up just outside of his Varick street offices. He was in a sueded brown blazer, jeans, and loafers, and I thought, “Oh boy, is this guy going to be okay?”

Chris was more than okay. He scooted here and there, huge lenses strapped all over, and ended up taking some awesome photos of the surfing competition that was taking place. Perhaps most important to me, he took some beautiful portraits that, when they appeared on the thick glossy stock that Hooked used, popped from the page and pinned down the wistful, evocative feel of a surfing competition that would always remain on the outskirts of the surf scene no matter how many top competitors it turned out, and no matter how much environmentalism was at heart.

Fluffy stuff, for sure, especially when compared to the conflicts that Chris would eventually go on to cover. Chris also shot some photos of me later, for a short essay I wrote on my fear of sharks and the surfing lesson that took place the same day as the surf competition. Of course I’ll treasure those. I remember seeing them in the magazine and thinking to myself, “That looks just like me, and it’s exactly the way I’d want a photo of me in a magazine to appear.”

That was Chris, in a nutshell. He was a student of individuals, and he captured them exactly as they were doing or saying the things that were their very essences.

We became friends that day, and saw each other quite a few times after we’d filed the story.

Last night, while I was struggling to find some peace with the fact that Chris has essentially been murdered (he was hit by an RPG while covering the Libyan conflict), I remembered something else: Chris was present at my 26th birthday party at the Half King. It was, in part, such a memorable event because of the photos Chris took that night with my rinky dinky point-and-shoot film Kodak, a cheap model I picked up at Rite Aid in Queens. I took a lot of pictures that year, and I took that stupid camera wherever I went. Chris was one of the first to arrive, and I remember him picking it up and turning it over in his hand, twice, looking bemused.

After he was done inspecting it, he held the thing above his head and shot ten, twelve good photos of the party from above, and then he got up on a stool, kneeling, and shot some more. They were wonderful photographs. Chris wasn’t an event photographer by any means. But I do remember getting those photos back, and loving almost every single one of them.

Of course, he’s not in any of them. But then again, that wasn’t what he was about, was it?

Later that year, my then-boyfriend and I went to celebrate New Year’s with Chris and his friends. At the time, Chris was living smack in the middle of Times Square, on 43rd street. We went up to the roof to celebrate. It’s the best vantage point I ever have had of Times Square, and the closest I ever want to get to the heaving mass of humanity that is the NYE celebration there. I’ve often thought of how wonderful it was to spend NYE in Chris’ company, and I wrote the scene of that party into my first novel attempt later.

We saw each other after that, well into the new year (2001, it would have been). We spent not a few evenings at bars in each others’ company, slugging back beer and the occasional whiskey, I think, although I may have fabricated the whiskey part of it.

These are my scraps of memory then: a few time-stamped photographs; some e-mails lost in the ether; memories of his voice over the line and across a couple of bar tables, the friendly brown eyes and raised eyebrows–“Tell Uncle Chris about it,” coquettishly–the constantly scruffy face, and that damned jacket he wore when I first met him, the one that made an appearance everywhere, it seemed.

My memories are nowhere near the events and images that made him famous later on. You won’t find our little article on his web page; and he probably didn’t think of me much over the past few years, nor did I think of him all that much, except for when I came across his byline, which was, okay, frequent, and always with the thrill that he’d gone from what we did together to this life. Always there was a frisson of worry and a silent wish that he’d stay safe.

These are the things I remember. I am honored to have shared a byline with him. Happy he graced my life. Infinitely sad that he won’t be around for me to look up when I get a wild hair, dial the number that lived in my Rolodex for years, gathering dust. Maybe I’d hear the warm voice again.

He was a good man, a good friend, whenever I called. My work is better because of his work. Here is Chris’ web site. I hear he has a son, a 3-year-old. Maybe one day I will bring by the clips, show little Hondros the faces his father captured before he his work launched him onto the world stage as an important voice in conflict photography.

Or maybe I’ll just keep it to myself. For now, here are the pages of our work together. I will miss you, Chris. Thank you for sharing the byline.

UPDATE:
In lieu of flowers, the loved ones of Chris Hondros kindly request donations be made to The Chris Hondros Fund. This fund will provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography.
The Chris Hondros Fund
c/o Christina Piaia
50 Bridge Street #414
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Dog under Desk

The Daily Life Text

…This is what happens when I am in a terrible mood.

Ergo, Sprocket is under my desk. Entirely. Where he does not fit. Here is the proof.

This is also proof that I am in a terrible mood. I have never tried writing a post while I am in a terrible mood, so this will be AN EXPERIMENT.

I am going to tell you about my two phobias. Potentially I will address what to do about them, but because I am conducting this experiment as I type, I guarantee nothing. I should lead by saying that I don’t ordinarily fall into the category of a girl’s girl. Sure, I like to get dressed up, but I don’t mind getting dirty or sweaty. Most of my shoes are shoes you can hike in, if at a pinch. I buy clothing to get sweaty in. I paint my toenails before every race. That’s about it. And I’m not generally squeamish. I like bugs and beetles and almost every type of wildlife, yes, even snakes and spiders. I love the outdoors and wonderful temperate forests. So that makes this first phobia really awful.

1. Worms

I am terrified of worms. You’re thinking, “Oh, lots of girls say that. They’re not really.” The answer is, yes, yes I am terrified of them. Really. I am so terrified of them that when I went to do a search for illustrations for this post, I had to actually close one eye and then pick a picture of a cartoon worm. Here it is:

from how-to-draw-funny-cartoons.com

Seriously. When the search page came up with all sorts of pink and brown collared things with no legs, all of the hairs on the back of my neck went up and I almost couldn’t touch the keyboard.

I love rain, but spring is particularly awful because when I take Sprocket for a stroll there are worms all over the sidewalk, escaping the drowning fate by stretching themselves out on comparably more dry pavement. I spend a lot of time and energy and probably shorten my life shrieking and sidestepping, heart pounding a billion times a minute. Even if it’s just me and there’s not one to shriek TO. Pathetic.

It.

Is.

Ridiculous.

And you know what? It gets worse I’m also freaked out by these things:

from in-the-stream.blogspot.com

Yeah, millipedes. Those fat scurrying, undulating bodies, all uniform and segmented…it’s worse when they’re curled up.

I didn’t think I was one of those. And when I’m in the field, or moving with purpose, in general, I can set it out of my mind. But…well, take the time I was with our friend Peggy, watching Jim race in a 24-hour mountain bike race in a forest in New Jersey. I got up out of the camp chair, and there in the dying light of a humid summer day, I spotted a millipede. I froze. I couldn’t move, couldn’t go around it, couldn’t really function. I just stood there, panting, freaking out, and Peggy eventually had to get a stick and move it for me. Even so, every time I thought about it, my mouth would water in that horrible pre-vomiting feeling.

I can’t really pin down why this is. I know that when I was young and we had just moved to Pennsylvania, I used to let caterpillars run over my hands and arms, watching their cute little furry bodies wiggle. I can’t even do that anymore. The feeling of those tiny fleshy feet, hundreds of ’em, wandering over and around…urg.

I also know that, when I was twelve or so, a worm fell off the roof of our house (I don’t know what it was doing up there) and landed on my head. My friend Kate looked up and said to me, “Um, I don’t want to scare you, but…” and, props to her, picked it out. And broke it in half while she was trying to rescue me. So now there was a half a worm, leaking god-knows-what in my hair.

I don’t remember if we went on playing after she rescued me. That night I dreamed a horrible nightmare about being covered in earthworms. We had the segment on worms in science class shortly after that. We had to put a worm on a paper towel on our desks and PUT OUR HEADS DOWN CLOSE TO IT to listen to it moving around. I think I begged out of the dissection. It was awful.

I remember playing with snails and slugs, too–in Taiwan we had these huge slugs that would crawl around in the courtyard, and I’d go out there and poke them in the antennae and watch them shrink back. Yep, I don’t do that anymore either.

But worms. Worms are the worst. I don’t know what to do about this.

2. Sharks

from fcusd.edu

There’s not much to say about this. They are amazing creatures. The thing is, they are perfect killing machines. And honestly, I’m not all that freaked out by the concept of a quick death at the jaws of something this perfect, something that belongs in a native environment that I’m probably invading. But I do have a problem with a lot of pain.

Perhaps my problem is not so much with sharks themselves. My problem is likely more related to the ocean, that enormous expanse of unknown. The fact that, in a lot of saltwater bodies I’ve been in, the water is so clear that you can see whatever it is coming for you, with the sure fact that it’s a lot better at coming for you than you are at outrunning it–outswimming it–well, that’s not very palatable, either.

The ocean is an amazing thing. I’d like to feel comfortable in it, but part of me says that that’s a silly¬† aspiration. A little healthy fear is a good thing, particularly for something more powerful than you are.

But the other part of me says that you should always try something new, always try to push your limits a little.

I’ve tried surfing. I’ve swum in open water, a lot. Maybe this is just a matter of proficiency. Every once in awhile I get panicky, although I didn’t panic once during IM Switz. I dunno. Maybe this phobia is all visual. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I can clearly see the limits of a lake, or a freshwater body of water. I can’t do so with oceans.

So there you have it. My two biggest fears. One I can do something about. The other I’d like to go away, but I’m not sure how. I think the worm thing is all tactile: seeing them reminds me of how they feel. Bleck. Anyone get over such a thing, ever?

image: howstuffworks.com

Yes, yes, I’m still cranky!