Review: Which way is the front line from here?

By Nicholas Adams-Dzierzba

In 2011, Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger were nominated for an Oscar for their documentary Restrepo, following a year with a platoon in the deadliest valley in Afghanistan.

However there was one criticism of the doco from its subjects, the Men of Battle Company 2nd of the 503rd Infantry Regiment 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. Junger and Hetherington had missed one fundamental truth from their time embedded with the soldiers.

“The reality of war isn’t that you might get killed out there, the core truth about war is that you’re guaranteed to lose your brothers,” Junger was told by a member of the platoon. On April 20th 2011 he would come to understand that sentiment when his co-director Tim Hetherington was killed by shrapnel from an explosion in Misrata, Libya.

In a bid to deal with the untimely of his friend and colleague, Junger directed Which Way is the Front Line From Here? A documentary telling the story of the life and time of Tim Hetherington.

From his upbringing in the UK; education at Oxford University and training as a photographer in Cardiff to covering conflict throughout Africa and the Middle-East, the focus is on Tim Hetherington’s ability to capture the humanity of people caught in the midst of war. Little White Lies described his focus as “never on sensational blood-soaked conflict, but on people in desperate circumstances experiencing everyday emotions.”

The tall and handsome Hetherington was disarming by being present and connecting with total strangers first and taking their picture second rather than affecting a dispassionate distance. His goofy tenderness is exemplified when photographing fisherman and learning several words of a foreign language. Especially effective is reversing roles and allowing children (and through the doco viewers) to see what he sees and allowing them to photograph him first. Outtakes from Restrepo show Hetherington as always present in the moment, engaging with what he is capturing, like getting a haircut from one of the soldiers and joking “I’m going to let this lunatic at me with a pair of clippers”. These qualities made him endearing to the locals where ever he went.

Tim’s approach was compelling, “I have no desire to be a war firefighter flying from warzone to warzone. I don’t even care about photography. I’m interested in reaching people with ideas and engaging them with views of the world.”

Hetherington eschewed what was expected in war photography, images of action; explosions and gunfire, although those are present but sidelined for the calm at the center of the maelstrom of activity at the Restrepo base. The camaraderie that developed between by the band of brothers.

nyc116937(Photo: Tim Hetherington – Man Eden. 2010)
This is best depicted in his series ‘Man eden’ an almost pastoral painting in composition, exemplifying the rudimentary connection the soldiers experienced through the intimacy of their time spent together. That they had come to love one another as men only experience in times of war. “What he saw with his camera in this environment of killing and fear and hardness was a connection,” says Junger, who now knows what the soldier meant, having lost a brother.

(Related – Bedrooms of the Fallen)

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