I never met Chris Hondros. But he took my photo once, on a very cold day two years ago when I was part of a media gaggle outside Bernie Madoff’s Upper East Side apartment, waiting for the Ponzi-schemer to return home from a court appearance.
When I first saw that photo, the novelty of it tickled me. The camera had been turned on me — a media peon with a very minor role in the Madoff drama. It was slightly flattering and slightly funny, in part because it documented me holding my favorite travel mug, a souvenir from the Greenberry’s coffee franchise in Charlottesville. I never noticed Hondros specifically, and I’ll never know if he had been assigned to document the media scrum that day, or if this particular shot was just one he took while waiting for Madoff, bored like the rest of us.
Since hearing news of the deaths of Hondros and British photojournalist Tim Hetherington in Misrata yesterday that photo has taken on a completely new meaning — and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. In light of Hondros’ death, the photo is a reminder to me that the world — and I don’t just mean the world of journalism, or its New York microcosm — really is quite small and interconnected. And it reminds me that journalists everywhere, every day, can be made to pay a steep price for doing their jobs.
When Madoff’s car arrived that day, the crowd was caught off-guard. CNN got the shot it wanted — mostly because of the good instincts of the photojournalist I was field producing for, who at the last minute stationed me as a lookout so I could signal which way the car was coming. In the chaos of the stakeout, I left my prized Greenberry’s mug on Madoff’s stoop, and the photo used to remind me of the mug I lost that day. But of course now the loss it conveys is much heavier.