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Interview with Tim Hetherington at NYT Lens Blog

June 22nd, 2010

LensBlog_RestrepoCheck out this Q&A piece at the NYTimes Lens Blog by Michael Kamber of Tim Hetherington. Both are war photographers, but Hetherington just released the documentary film “Restrepo” which he shot and directed with writer Sebastian Junger.

The interview not only looks at war photography and the making of “Restrepo,” but at cross-platform, long-form visual storytelling; ie. the evolution of documentary photojournalism. Hetherington operates in multiple mediums, using each as an addition to his storytelling tool kit, in order to reach as broad an audience as possible–something I identify with. He started with a Vanity Fair article, produced a fine art exhibit, gave to broadcast television, a book, and now a feature length film.

He and Junger self-funded the editorial production of “Restrepo.” I identify with and have much respect for that too. Together they are showing how important long-form, time-intensive documentary work by professional news gatherers is to informing the public; how those professionals must now be capable of using all the tools available to them, be it a still camera, video camera or whatever; and have the ability to distribute that media through platforms like Vanity Fair, a newspaper blog, a Facebook page, or through industry discussion like my re-posting commentary.

It is one of the reasons I spent the last three months in New York, learning to be a better producer, emphasizing multi-platform distribution, and working with visual journalists like myself–but from a production standpoint. The insight I received, not only from people like Brian Storm and Eric Maierson at MediaStorm, Pamela Chen at Open Society Institute, and from the projects I worked on, only reinforces what I believe, and what Hetherington is saying.

Click through to the jump for some excerpts from Hetherington’s interview, but I encourage you to read the whole piece at the New York Times Lens Blog.

Tim Hetherington:

“If you are interested in mass communication, then you have to stop thinking of yourself as a photographer. We live in a post-photographic world. If you are interested in photography, then you are interested in something — in terms of mass communication — that is past. I am interested in reaching as many people as possible.

“I am interested in visually representing something in as many ways as possible, exploiting as many different forms as possible, to reach as many people as possible.

“When you and I look at a photograph or watch a film, it’s all about time. It is the amount of time you spend. That is everything. That is what it’s about. Full stop. No short cut. Eugene Richards does not make amazing work because he is in and out. It’s because he lives it. That’s why the best work — we all know — speaks of time.

“My strategy is, initially, to build a bridge to people rather than turn them off with really tough images that challenge them. By making a film about a group of soldiers you get to know — that you are intimate with, that you laugh with and end up crying with — is a way for you to engage with what is really going on.

“I hope “Restrepo” is the kind of film that does that, that engages people from the left and the right. People have responded very positively to it. Those who have been stirred up are the people who think we should be doing overt political commentary. It makes them angry that we are not.

“The very fact they are riled up shows you that it is impacting them. They need, perhaps, to analyze why they feel how they do. How they can actually talk about the war in a way that isn’t so cemented? If we can engage each other in a nonpolitical and nonpartisan way, we may actually agree on how to move forward with the war.

“We are asking an 18-year-old guy from, say, Arkansas, who has never been out of his state before to not only go to Afghanistan, but also to learn Pashtu and Dari, and be empathetic with people who he thinks may be killing his friends. It is a lot for even the most aware person to deal with.

“We should maybe put some other training procedures into place, and be a little bit more supportive of what they are doing. I have a lot of respect for them, because I think we ask them to do too much.

“I encourage [young photographers] to look at many different forms. Not to say, “I am a photographer,” but to say: “I am an image maker. I make still or moving images in real-life situations, unfiltered and un-Photoshopped. I am going to look into how I can put this into different streams for different audiences; maybe some on the Web, some in print.”

“That’s why I think the most important thing for our industry is not style, it is authenticity. It is: “I go to you because I know you have an authentic voice in the work that you have been doing.”

“But you need to have professional witnesses, people who go out there and do this as a living. What you do – the way that you make an image, the way that you make a story – is different than partaking in that story, like citizen journalism.”

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