Liberia Retold Through Photographs of Tim Hetherington

Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold, Photography by Tim Hetherington opens Friday, October 12, at the Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery and will be on view through December 6. An opening reception is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. in Cohen Memorial Hall on the Peabody campus and is part of The Ingram Commons’ Fall for the Arts celebration.

Tim Hetherington, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker and British photojournalist, documented the experience of war from the perspective of the individual, mostly in West Africa and the Middle East. His film Restrepo, which he co-directed with Sebastian Junger about a platoon of soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award in 2011 for Best Documentary Feature.

Through his photography, writing, and films, Hetherington offered new ways to look at and think about human suffering. On April 20, 2011, while covering the conflict in Libya, Hetherington and fellow photographer Chris Hondros were killed by Libyan forces in a mortar attack on the besieged city of Misrata.

The exhibition entwines documentary photography, oral testimony, and memoir to explore the dynamics of power, international complicity, and the search for justice in recent Liberian history. Hetherington lived in Liberia on and off for several years, documenting with his Hasselblad the chaos and agony of war and the painful, slow reconciliations that followed.

Liberia, a country in West Africa, was founded by black Americans, many of whom were former slaves. Two of Liberia’s former presidents met grisly ends: William Tolbert was disemboweled during a coup d’état, and Samuel Doe was filmed while being tortured to death. More recently, former president Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison for war crimes after becoming the first person to be tried and convicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. However, the terrible years of war and corruption have given way to a remarkable present, with 2011 Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf taking the country’s helm as Africa’s first female president.

Long Story Bit by Bit brings to life an extraordinary range of characters—from warlords to presidents, environmental activists to traditional hunters, political hustlers to democratic visionaries—all captured by Hetherington over the course of eight years of living and working in West Africa, with four years spent in Liberia where he was a unique witness to the cycles of history. Hetherington was the recipient of Columbia University’s Alfred I. DuPont Award for excellence in broadcast journalism, a UK NESTA National Endowment Fellowship and four World Press Photo prizes, including the 2007 World Press Photo of the Year.

The exhibition, organized by Umbrage Editions and curated by Nan Richardson, is part of the campus wide initiative “Human Identities: Global, Local, Personal.” Sponsors are The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons, the Office of the Provost, the deans of the College of Arts and Science, Blair School of Music, School of Engineering, Peabody College, and Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery.

The Vanderbilt Fine Arts Gallery is located in Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Avenue South, on the western edge of the Peabody College campus. All events are free and open to the public. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday; noon to 8 p.m., Thursday; and 1-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday.

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