The front line isn’t modern warfare’s ultimate advance. It’s not some impregnable steel corridor straight out of Call of Duty. The front line is warm, and soft. In its fitful sleep it dreams of wives and children, ten time zones away. The front line, as seen through Tim Hetherington’s eyes, is a huddle of bruised tattoos and sleep deprived kids.
Tim Hetherington’s portrait studio was a place where friendly fire was an empty bunk, where collateral damage a sobbing comrade; and his quest to capture the dog days of modern warfare ultimately cost him his life – Hetherington was killed covering the Libyan civil war in 2011.
Like all great journalists, Hetherington asked the questions others didn’t. Questions like ‘where do soldiers go when they sleep?’ And, like all great photographers, he shifted his focus to find the answers. The magic, he knew, lay not in the spent bullets of M16s and the broken landscape of Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. It was somewhere in between. Between war and peace, man and boy, wake and sleep. Life and death.
As a result, the power of Hetherington’s images (thirty of which are gathered in this must-see Open Eye exhibition, together with a couple of video pieces) comes not from from firefights or military skirmishes, but from brotherly bonds, boredom under gunfire, and stolen moments of braggadocio.
In a world that insists we treat service personnel as identikit ‘heroes’, Hetherington forces us to see them as young kids with badly inked tattoos and wide-eyed stares. As our mates. Fallible, impressionable. Vulnerable.
By focussing on the macro, Hetherington reveals far more about the horror of war than any breathless CNN news report ever could. This is an important exhibition, celebrating Birkenhead-born Hetherington’s significant, humane and tender incursion into that most hostile and misunderstood of territories – the war photographer.
You Never See Them Like This
to 24 November
Image courtesy Tim Hetherington / Magnum Photos