Review | Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington | Imperial War Museum until 29 September 2024

A new exhibition, The Storyteller, showcasing the work of acclaimed late photojournalist Tim Hetherington has opened at the Imperial War Museum in London, providing a fascinating insight into his experiences covering conflicts around the world.

The event marks the 13th anniversary of Hetherington’s tragic death. He was killed in Libya in 2011, fatally wounded by a mortar explosion while covering the country’s civil war for a project that would never be finished.

I was 12 years old when he died, still in school, and the thought of being a journalist hadn’t even entered my mind. As I attended the exhibition last week, I did so as the Tim Hetherington Fellow for Index on Censorship.

Set up by the Tim Hetherington Trust, the fellowship is a partnership between Liverpool John Moores University and Index on Censorship and allows one graduate to spend a year working on Index’s editorial team. I took up the role in September 2023 following the completion of my MA in Sports Journalism.

The Storyteller exhibition was the first chance I had to really delve into the life and work of the man responsible for the incredible opportunity I’d been granted. My interest in sport immediately drew me to Healing Sport, Hetherington’s first major project, which followed Liberian football team Millennium Stars as they toured the UK in 1999, during which he noted that “despite the social breakdown that transpired during the war, football always remained an important way to bring the youth together”.

This interest in the intersection between sport and conflict was the beginning of his exploration of the human experience of war, an interest which remained throughout his career and is clearly visible in his photo archive on display at the Imperial War Museum.

Hetherington’s biggest strength was his ability to find and capture humanity in times of violence. The exhibition states that he wished to “challenge assumptions about conflict and those caught up in it” and his photos do just that, primarily focusing on individuals rather than getting too drawn into the background context of war itself. In one striking collection called Sleeping Soldiers, he captures US soldiers at their most vulnerable: in bed, asleep.

Hetherington’s photos capture the human – many of his shots are focussed on combatants and soldiers bonding with each other rather than being actually engaged in combat. They highlight the importance of seeing the individual human beings impacted by conflict rather than getting lost in the broader actions of oppressive states.

These photographs serve as rich inspiration for up-and-coming journalists – not just in their composition and quality but in the motivations behind them. Hetherington was something of a pioneer in this sense – he questioned traditional methods of photography and preferred to spend great lengths of time with his subjects in order to document their character properly rather than parachuting in and out, as was the more common approach.

Hetherington often followed a ‘trojan horse’ method of photography whereby he focused on difficult topics such as war and conflict, which so often people are reluctant to observe or discuss, and repackaged them into a more digestible context, such as a sport. It’s a powerful idea and adds emotional weight to his projects. It’s difficult not to wonder how he would have documented modern conflicts had his life not been cut too short.

The exhibition at the Imperial War Museum does an impeccable job of placing Hetherington’s work in context by showcasing his photographs alongside a range of his personal belongings, including diary entries and camera equipment, giving a sense of the man behind the lens in a profession where they often go unnoticed.

As a Tim Hetherington Fellow, viewing his work is humbling. The commitment and determination that pushed him to the frontline in order to capture the humanity of those impacted by war was what made him such a great photojournalist, yet also cost him his life. It is up to those coming after him to take on the mantle.

Without his talents and bravery, I wouldn’t be a journalist – at least not at Index. It is strange to be in debt to someone you’ve never met, but the only way to try and repay it is by striving to produce quality journalism for a deserving cause – there’s no greater motivation for that than to do so in the name of a genuinely extraordinary photojournalist.

Storyteller: Photography by Tim Hetherington runs until 29 September 2024 at the Imperial War Museum, London.



Ten years on: Celebrating the legacy of Tim Hetherington

Tim Hetherington’s mission to create a better understanding of the world cast him in many roles: photojournalist, filmmaker, human rights advocate, artist and a leading thinker in media innovation. He was killed in Libya by a mortar in in April 2011.

On 20 April 2011, photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed by shrapnel from a mortar blast in Misrata, Libya.

Born in Liverpool on 5 December 1970, Hetherington was a prominent photojournalist whose work was acclaimed by his peers. He was once described as one of ‘brightest photojournalists of his generation’ and his work included co-producing the Oscar-nominated Restrepo, a 2010 documentary film about US soldiers in the war in Afghanistan.

His passion for his work was rooted in developing a relationship between his audience and the events portrayed in his work. He once said: “I want to record world events, big history told in the form of a small history, the personal perspective that gives my life meaning and significance. My work is all about building bridges between myself and the audience.”

A clear passion for people is what led him to the Libyan civil war and to the front line between rebel forces and those of Muammar Gaddafi, where he met his death.

After a degree in photojournalism from Cardiff University in 1997, Hetherington pursued his photography career. His coverage was extensive and ranged from the aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, to the events during and after the Liberian civil war.

Director of the Tim Hetherington Trust, Stephen Mayes, shed a light on where his appetite for his work came from. He wrote: “His family talks about a child who was playful yet intense, perpetually curious and seeking new experiences, pushing the proper boundaries of an English adolescence, characteristics that later served him well as a journalist.”

“It was never enough to simply witness events, he had to experience the lives of his subjects”

After Hetherington’s death, Sebastian Jungar, the director of Restrepo and someone who worked closely with him released the film “Where is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington”, a documentary about his life and work.

Junger told Index of his work with Hetherington and his unique way of thinking.

“In my mind he was some ways a brother. We were in combat together and it builds a kind of experience of brotherhood that is hard to find anywhere else,” Junger recollected.

“When he was killed, I was devastated like I had never been devastated by anything. Among other things, I decided to stop combat reporting.”

“He really thought out of the box. He said to me ‘I only use a camera because that is the easiest way to tell a certain kind of story. If I could tell that story without a camera I would drop it in a second’.”

During the filming of the pair’s co-project, Restrepo, Junger recalls a moment that typified Hetherington’s approach to his work.

“There was a lot of combat, but when there wasn’t, the guys [US infantry] would basically sleep as much as they could.”

“One day everyone was asleep, but Tim was sort of creeping around and I asked him ‘What are you doing? It is like 100 degrees and everyone is asleep’.”

“He said ‘Don’t you get it? They look like children. This is how their mothers see them’.”

Tim Hetherington’s name lives on not only through his work but also through an eponymous fellowship with Index on Censorship, established in 2016 in conjunction with Liverpool John Moores University and the Tim Hetherington Trust. The fellowship sees a student from the university join Index for a year as editorial assistant on the magazine and website, gaining valuable journalistic experience.

Steve Harrison, journalism lecturer at LJMU’s Liverpool Screen School, who manages the fellowship, spoke of the how Hetherington’s work continues to be a good example to his students.

“His main media output was documentaries, so it is of particular interest to people looking to go into that. But it was his journalism roots that is relevant to all students and an example of a way in which journalism can be put to a very powerful use,” he said.

“It is not just journalism, it is art as well, the intersection of journalism and art. It is our view that Tim’s work was an inspiration for current and future journalists and one of the main reasons we thought naming [the fellowship] after him was so appropriate. An ideal fit.”

The fellowship has helped a number of former LJMU students gain a foothold in the industry. Last year’s recipient Orna Herr, now a communications officer for the British Science Association, said: “The Tim Hetherington fellowship gave me incomparable experience of working in journalism and the confidence to pitch and write my own stories. Being a member of the team at Index allowed me to be part of the process of editing and publishing articles from all over the world, working closely with the journalists themselves and the editorial team.

“I left Index with a portfolio of work I’m very proud of.”

Lewis Jennings, the 2018/19 fellow, said, “I learned a lot about the craft of journalism and also what it means to be an advocate for free expression. It opened my eyes to a lot of things that go on in the world in terms of threats to the media and free speech. It has enabled me to pursue a career in journalism, both in print and radio. It was an honour to carry on the legacy of Tim Hetherington through the fellowship. Tim’s work as a visual storyteller and human rights advocate continues to inspire ten years after his death.”

Lewis Jennings on time at Index: “It taught me that it’s not just about words on a page”

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”102611″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][vc_column_text]“I have a voice and it matters and I should use it,” said former Index on Censorship editorial assistant Lewis Jennings, talking about the most important thing he learned during his time at Index.

Jennings, who is now the assistant editor at Liverpool-based newspaper The Scottie Press, and a freelance radio producer at two radio stations in the UK’s north-west, was the fourth Tim Hetherington fellow. He started at Index in September 2018.

The fellowship is offered each year to a journalism graduate from Liverpool John Moores University and is backed by the Tim Hetherington Trust. The recipient spends a year working at Index, getting practical experience of journalism as part of the team on the global, award-winning magazine.

Of the four issues of the magazine Jennings worked on, he said the spring 2019 issue, Is This All Local News?, was the issue he was most proud of.

“I’m big on local journalism. That’s the area of journalism I’ve gone into, so I felt like this issue was something that I could really sink my teeth into. The theme of the issue – what happens when local journalism no longer holds power to account – is something that I feel is very important and something all journalists should be worried about.”

Jennings said he felt the culture of the Index office was conducive to an open exchange of ideas: “It was nice to feel like my input mattered in that process [creating the magazine] … Rachael and the team were always encouraging me to do my best and were always happy to help. It was a nice environment to work in and it really has set my expectations high for where I work in the future.”

“My experience at Index speaks to the editorial side of how journalism works. It taught me that it’s not just about words on a page. It’s all the other things that come with it: commissioning, picture research, marketing. So it’s been really valuable,” said Jennings, who is now using the skills he learnt at Index in his current roles.

One of Jennings’ tasks while at Index was creating the regular podcast. He would host it, edit it and source guests, perhaps most notably Peppermint, a drag queen who appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She spoke to Jennings about her experience of being stopped at an international border, a reference to the theme of the Autumn 2019 issue, Border Forces.

Experience in both the editorial side of journalism and podcasting has allowed enabled Jennings to get to where he is now. He said: “I love writing and I love radio so I’m getting the best of both worlds.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Tim Hetherington Fellowship: “The confidence that I can bring ideas to the table has been a huge help”

[vc_row full_height=”yes” content_placement=”middle” css_animation=”fadeIn” css=”.vc_custom_1532521019562{background-color: #ffffff !important;background-position: center !important;background-repeat: no-repeat !important;background-size: cover !important;}”][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”78192″ img_size=”full”][vc_custom_heading text=”Kieran Etoria-King, the second Tim Hetherington fellow, speaks about his time as the editorial assistant, and the opportunities it’s given him” font_container=”tag:h2|text_align:center|color:%23000000″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

“It made it on the front cover of the magazine so that was a big, proud moment,” said former Index editorial assistant Kieran Etoria-King, talking about his interview with stage star and model Lily Cole.

Etoria-King, now a graduate trainee at Channel 4, was the 2016/7 Tim Hetherington fellow at Index, a programme for journalism graduates from Liverpool John Moores University and backed by the Tim Hetherington Trust.

During his time as the second LJMU/Tim Hetherington fellow, Etoria-King worked on four issues of the magazine and on the website throughout the year, as well as interviewing Cole.

“My proudest moment editorially was the commissioning, when I got to the point where I felt like I was able to bring in ideas,” Etoria-King said. “I saw a picture of some North Korean art, and when I saw that I became fascinated by these amazing North Korean paintings I’d never seen before. I pitched that idea, and then went out and found someone, BG Muhn, who is an expert on the subject, and was able to write a really good piece about it. That was probably the first moment where I felt like, ‘yeah, I can contribute to this and able to bring stuff to the table’. It was like the first or second piece from the front in that issue so that was amazing.”

Etoria-King has taken the skills learned at Index into his new role. He said: “The confidence that I can bring ideas to the table has been a huge help.”

“Anywhere you go in the media, people are gonna be fascinated by the work Index does, even if they haven’t heard of it, when you tell them what it is, they’re gonna be fascinated.”

Talking about what he learned during his year on the editorial team, he said: “They really helped me really refine what to put in applications, refine my skills and how to pitch myself. You couldn’t really ask for a better introduction [to media], because you’ve got so much experience there in Sean, Rachael and Jemimah, Jodie and the whole organisation. Being such a small team you have a lot of input, and your presence is really valued and your input is really valued.”

[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_single_image image=”94174″ img_size=”large” add_caption=”yes” alignment=”center”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/4″][vc_icon icon_fontawesome=”fa fa-quote-left”][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”3/4″][vc_custom_heading text=”Anywhere you go in the media, people are gonna be fascinated by the work Index does”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][vc_column_text]

The fellowship was set up in memory of Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist from Liverpool. He is best known for his work covering soldiers and conflicts including Afghanistan and Libya. His photography was celebrated for focusing on individuals’ experiences, not just the war zones.

Hetherington’s assignments took him from the UK to Africa where he lived and worked. He also studied US fighting forces for a year in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008, which led to the Oscar-nominated film Restrepo and Infidel photo book. He also worked in Libya, where he sadly lost his life in 2011 from a mortar attack during the country’s civil war.

“Tim spent his whole life challenging limitations on expression,” said Stephen Mayes of the Tim Hetherington Trust, including a period of time spent as an investigator for the United Nations Security Council’s Liberia Sanctions Committee.  

“The opportunity to introduce new talent to work in this vital field is unmissable and we wholeheartedly join with LJMU and Index to promote the values of free speech and political expression.”

The Tim Hetherington fellow works on the award-winning Index on Censorship magazine and website as the editorial assistant with opportunities to do a range of tasks including interviews and podcasts.


Danyaal Yasin is the 2017/18 Tim Hetherington fellow at Index