It has been three years since photographer Chris Hondros was killed, along with fellow photojournalist Tim Hetherington, during a firefight in Misrata, Libya, on April 20th 2011. With the recent release of Testament — a moving collection of Hondros’ photographs and writing – Getty’s Vice President/News, Pancho Bernasconi talks to TIME about one of the American conflict photographer’s most poignant and shocking images: that of a young girl who just witnessed the death of her parents in Tal Afar, Iraq.
Chris Hondros’ grimly iconic image of screaming, blood-soaked Iraqi child Samar Hassan is as powerful and disturbing today as it was when it was taken in January 2005. The photo — which shows the moments just after Hassan’s parents were shot dead by U.S. troops on an evening patrol in the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar — endures not only as an uncompromising document of a shocking event, but as a visceral reminder of the very personal cost of war.
“It’s such a powerful beacon for all the emotions I think someone has,” Getty’s Director of Photography Pancho Bernasconi tells TIME. “Whether they believe in war or they don’t believe in war. I think that moment transcends all that, and cuts to the pain that this child is feeling.”
Now, the book Testament reveals that Hassan’s sorrow didn’t end on that January night in 2005. Her brother Rakan, who was 11 at the time and traveling with the family, wasn’t just injured but was paralyzed by a bullet that pierced his spine during the incident.
“The family was given $7,500 in compensation by the U.S. military and eventually Rakan was transported to Boston, Mass. for intensive treatment for his wounds,” as the book’s editor’s notes reveal. “[The] effort [was] sparked by constituent mail to Sen. Kennedy (D-Mass) after the public saw Hondros’ photos.”
Rakan was able to walk again and returned home, but sadly he died amidst the ongoing violence in Iraq in 2008.
“I’ve always said that the hardest thing for a photographer is connecting with somebody when they’re at their most raw, their most vulnerable,” Bernasconi continues. “And Chris had that ability to — to do that. And I think that speaks to him as a journalist and speaks to him as a person.”
Indeed, for those who were close to Hondros — those fortunate to have known the spirit that informed his formidable talent — it is sometimes difficult, even after all this time, to believe that he’s gone. But the indelible pictures in Testament, along with the endless stories about his life and career that friends and family tell, over and over, ensure that the work he produced while practicing the profession he loved so much will endure.
Testament is available now from powerHouse books
Paul Moakley is TIME’s Deputy Director of Photography and Visual Enterprise