In the line of fire: What the war photographer saw

At its best, war photography is compelling, emotive, frightening. Here we celebrate the work of two men who excelled at it – and paid with their lives
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Yesterday the world's media mourned as news spread of the first Western journalists to die in the Libyan conflict. The British photojournalist Tim Hetherington and the American photographer Chris Hondros were killed on Wednesday in the besieged city of Misrata.

Hetherington is best known as co-creator of the documentary Restrepo, whose depiction of life on the front line in Afghanistan earned him an Oscar-nomination and the 2010 Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Over a year he, along with American journalist Sebastian Junger, was embedded with troops in the country's north-eastern Korengal Valley. In an apolitical, observational style, it captured the day-to-day lives of the men – from their deployment to their return. He was, in the words of Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, "about as perfect a model of a war photographer as you're going to find these days," with "a deft eye and unwavering dedication". Beginning his career as the sole staff photographer on The Big Issue, he documented conflicts across Africa and Afghanistan, his work characterised by a poised reflection rarely seen in breaking news work. "I have no desire to be a war fire-fighter," he told The New York Times in 2009. "I'm interested in reaching people with ideas and engaging them with views of the world."

Hondros, meanwhile, won acclaim for his images from war zones in Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2004, he was named a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, for his work in Liberia, and in 2006 his Iraqi coverage earned him the Overseas Press Club's Robert Capa Gold Medal, one of the most illustrious awards in the field. Born in New York to Greek and German parents – both refugees from the Second world War – he maintained a base in the city.

With two colleagues injured in the same bombardment – photographers Guy Martin and Michael Christopher Brown – the fate of Hetherington and Hondros is a sobering reminder of the perils faced by those covering conflicts. While they may be the first Western journalists killed, the so-called Arab Spring has taken the lives of an estimated 10 others. In Libya alone, the al-Jazeera cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber and Mohammad Nabbous, a reporter for Libya Alhurra TV, were killed in hostilities.

"You have to be of a certain type of make-up to do this work," Hondros had observed. "We're all suited for different things. But we need those people. We need journalists."