In a New York bar, a quiet commemoration of Tim Hetherington's life
The death of Tim Hetherington has resonated all over the world, with his fellow journalists in Libya and his childhood friends in England and industry power brokers in Hollywood, where the "Restrepo" co-director just six weeks ago celebrated an Oscar nomination.
But a particular kind of melancholy was in the air on Thursday at the Half King, the Manhattan bar and restaurant that Hetherington frequented when he wasn't on assignment in a dangerous location.
The Half King is co-owned by Sebastian Junger, the author and filmmaker who collaborated with Hetherington on the Afghanistan verite documentary "Restrepo." On Thursday, Junger memorialized his friend by taking down from a prominent wall space an explanatory plaque about the establishment and replacing it instead with a stark image of Hetherington. In the photo, the journalist is covering an African military conflict -- it appears to be the second Liberian civil war -- and is surrounded by amateur soldiers brandishing automatic weapons. Hetherington is holding an elaborate apparatus in his hands too, giving him an odd kinship with the soldiers, but his machine is, of course, a camera. (That's the image above.)
There's no conspicuous expression on the journalist's face -- he appears neither scared nor prideful, just a man trying to do his job while surrounded by some of the most murderous violence on the planet.
Hetherington came to the Half King as often as several times a week when he was in town, either to chat with Junger about work or war, or simply to grab a beer and some food before heading out on his next risky assignment. A manager recalled seeing him in the restaurant just a few weeks ago.
Junger, the manager said, plans on displaying more information about his partner (the author has already written a tribute on VanityFair.com) and perhaps even show more of his award-winning images. This used to be one more indistinguishable space in one more New York eatery; it now looks to become a modest but powerful shrine to a man who fought to tell the truth half a world away.
The conversation with the manager had a poignant but even quality, as though the manager knew a man like Hetherington would not have wanted an excess of sentiment, and it brought to mind a drink we had with Hetherington last year at the Cannes Film Festival, where the filmmaker came across as everything the obituaries have said he was: thoughtful, generous and unassumingly brave.
As we step away from the photo, a 30ish woman standing at the bar, wearing a fashionable leather jacket and a pensive expression, stops us. "Is that the photographer who was killed yesterday?" she asks, motioning to the picture.
On hearing that it is, she offers a thank you. Then, after pausing a moment to contemplate the image, she turns to her friends to describe who Hetherington was.
-- Steven Zeitchik, reporting from New York
Photo: An image of Tim Hetherington hangs at the Half King. Credit: Steven Zeitchik