Tim Hetherington Interview: Digital Technology

Posted in Photography, Video by Nathan Lee Bush on January 28, 2011

What a year it’s been for Tim Hetherington! After the universal acclaim and commercial success of his Afghan war documentary, Restrepo, this week it received  an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Film. Infidel, his collection of photographs from his time embedded with US troops in Afghanistan’s Korengal, Infidel, immediately sold out upon its release and went straight to a second printing.

In December, we had a chance to sit down with Tim for an exclusive interview, discussing everything from his work to his career to wider discussions of where things are going for image makers, photographers and filmmakers today. We’ll be releasing portions of the interview over the next week.


Tim Hetherington: People think that when they talk to me about digital technology, they thought I was talking about cameras. I’m not talking about cameras because we all know the diffusion curve, also the exponential curve is that in the end we’ll have one piece of kit that can shoot video and stills and take 16MB or 100MB frames…

Nathan Lee Bush: …and will probably be in our phone…

TH: Exactly. I’m talking about thinking, “How is digital technology changing how we think about images? About who we are as image makers? And what we can do with images?” And sometimes I’ve been provocative about that. I remember, in an interview, when I won the world press image, I sort of said I’m not interested in photography. Now, of course, I’m trying to get people to think, “Why would he say that?”

What I’m trying to draw a distinction for people is between what I call “nostalgic photography” and where we currently are, image making, where the boundaries between the still and the moving image are broken down. Where the boundaries between how we disseminate images are broken down. And nostalgic photography is what I call more classic photography. In the darkroom. Prints. That beautiful thing that is now becoming relegated really to a very small practice and is something we look at that is curated in museums.

NLB: But isn’t that what your latest project is, Infidel? It feels like classic photography to me. It’s very…

TH: Absolutely! I’m not dismissing classic photography. What I’m saying is: if you’re interested in mass communication, then we’re in a post-photographic world. We’re in a post-nostalgic photography world. We’re in a new image world. If you’re interested in mass communication. If you’re not interested in mass communication then of course…

NLB: It’s still going to be a niche product…

TH: Absolutely! It’s niche. And it’s lovely. It’s fantastic and I love it. It’s beautiful. But Flickr isn’t mass communication. Flickr is a trash bin of billions of images that are circulating. But it’s not about communicating anything.

What I mean about mass communication for those people that want to push me on the subject, I’ll say “I’m interested in forming ideas, coherently, and presenting them to as wide an audience as possible.” And if you’re interested in that, because say you’re interested in the story, the idea, then really photography is just a bit player, in the wider scheme of things.

And, if you think about the Afghan project that I’ve done, and all the different permutations to that, photography has only been one part. Image making has only been one part. Nostalgic photography, i.e. prints on a walls, have been a tiny part. Really the main part of that project has been disseminating images on the web, (which is not nostalgic photography, but still images), the moving image component.

The distinction between nostalgic photography and image making is something that I’ve always been interested in and quite thorough about, where that is, in my practice.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ADORAMA RENTAL CO, ADORAMA RENTAL CO. ADORAMA RENTAL CO said: Please RT! The first video from our exclusive interview with Oscar nominated filmmaker Tim Hetherington is up! #oscar […]

  2. […] late Tim Hetherington expressed similarly low regard for Flickr as a tool for mass communication in our recent interview, “Flickr is a trash bin of billions of images that are circulating. But it’s not about […]

  3. […] by as many people as possible – the prototypical “mass-communicator,” as the late Tim Hetherington put it in our interview with him last year – what motivated Maier? This is the question that […]

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