Photojournalist Tim Hetherington’s Sleeping Soldier Portraits (Photos)

Before he died in action, Tim Hetherington captured the duality of a soldier’s life. By Blake Gopnik.

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

To sleep, perchance to dream...

Tim Hetherington died almost exactly a year ago, shooting photos of revolution in Libya—and then getting shot. As one of our era’s great photojournalists, he often made images that showed the middle or margins of conflict. An exhibition of his work that opened Thursday at Yossi Milo Gallery in New York has its thick-of-things moments, but it also includes a stunning spread of photos of American servicemen asleep in their bunks, at Outpost Restrepo in Afghanistan’s remote Korengal Valley. We’ve trained these boys to be killers, and other Hetherington photos show them looking the part. But in these portraits, Hetherington wanted to reveal how they must seem to their mothers: innocent, vulnerable, and, in their turned-off minds at least, somewhere very far from the war. (Their sleep, Hetherington said, was often helped along by drugs.) Great art has often shown us gorgeous young men gone limp and unconscious: Meleager the dead hunter, in ancient Greek sculpture; Christ in his mother’s arms, in all those Old Master pietas. Hetherington’s images have that same kind of power, only his boys are only facing death; they haven’t got there yet. Their sleep becomes all the more poignant because of the grim end it can seem to predict.

– Blake Gopnik

"Alcantara, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Richardson, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Nevalla, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Lizama, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Mace, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Kim, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Murphy, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Kelso, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Kelso, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Kelso, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Hijar, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Sleeping Soldiers

"Cunningham, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)

© Tim Hetherington, Courtesy Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

"Buno, Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan" (2008)