New documentary center opens in Melrose

Photo by Tim Hetherington/Magnum Photos. This photo is one of a series taken by the late Tim Hetherington as part of an exhibition at the Bronx Documentary Center on Courtlandt Ave.

Gallery shows work of photographer killed in Libya

The inaugural exhibition at the new Bronx Documentary Center on Courtlandt Avenue highlights the final works of a major talent whose life came to a tragic end thousands of miles away – while its founders reflect on the tribute they’ve built for their fallen friend.

Visions: Tim Hetherington is a stirring collection of 16 never-before-seen photographs taken during the conflict in Libya by the late photojournalist who was killed while covering the uprising last spring.

Along with the pictures – including the final image he ever captured – the exhibit includes a multimedia installation with video clips of Hetherington discussing his life’s work.

“People felt excited and we feel we got it right,” said Project Director Danielle Jackson.

“The idea was to have Tim live on,” said Michael Kamber, Heatherington’s close friend, colleague and founder of the new Center.  “To see kids learning and watching videos of Tim, he is.”

The center was initially conceived by award-winning photojournalists Kamber and Hetherington, whose ambition it was to forge a nonprofit educational center and gallery dedicated to the support of documentary projects from around the world.

But their goal went beyond showcasing projects that highlight the intersection of art, ideas and journalism.  Hetherington felt the space was a perfect opportunity to provide the underserved population in the South Bronx with access to documentary projects, along with events and programs for all ages.

“Tim was all about reaching nontraditional audiences,” Kamber explained.

Marty Rogers grew up in the neighborhood and recalled when the site was a candy store in his youth.  He attended the center’s opening and stopped by a few days later to collect promotional flyers to spread the word.

“It’s fabulous and a great resource,” he said.  “They have a message and the skills to help people form ideas about the world.  I’m telling people they have to swing by.  These guys are for real.”

The new venue is a welcome addition that will expose young people from the neighborhood to an art form they have would otherwise have no access to, say the project’s facilitators.

“For many kids, their only exposure to photography is taking pictures for Facebook,” Jackson said.

Hetherington’s final images are being used as a catalyst to educate local youth about basic photography principles and encourage critical thinking, interpretation and discussion about the conflicts he covered around the world.

Kamber first showed Hetherington the ground floor location in January soon after he purchased the recently renovated historical landmark building adorned with ornate white trimmings and a steep mansard roof.  But before Hetherington had a chance to work alongside Kamber on the center, he was killed in Misurata on April 20, 2011.

“When he died we knew we had to do it,” Kamber said. “For a lot of us it was about working out our grief.”

Ideas started to take shape mere weeks after Hetherington’s death.  A dedicated team of volunteers was behind design and construction efforts, supporting their cause primarily “out of our pockets,” Kamber said.

“It was such an amazing effort by so many people,” said Jackson.

Kamber said four soldiers featured in Hetherington’s Academy Award-nominated film “Restrepo” came to New York and helped build the hanging displays for the photographs.  They all shared pizza, beer and stories on the floor of the new venue that evening.

Hetherington’s parents visited the center and helped paint the walls just days before Visions opened.  Kamber said they have also donated Hetherington’s library of books, flap jacket and helmet.

Small donations and fundraising have also helped with the launch, and Jackson said A Kickstarter.com campaign was planned for the coming weeks.  One group that is providing financial assistance for Visions is the Committee to Protect Journalists – one of three organizations designated to receive donations in Hetherington’s honor.

“It’s a strong means to showcase what journalism is about, the risks it entails and the understanding it engenders,” said Gypsy Guillén Kaiser, the director of advocacy and communications for the organization.

Melrose resident Elina Taft said she was moved by Hetherington’s photographs .

“We take life for granted,” she said while looking at an image of two young Libyan boys and an older man holding explosives.  She said she planned to return soon with her 21-year-old son.

“I’m hoping it enlightens and empowers people to learn more about the world, she said. “Not just for the kids, but also adults.”

 Visions: Tim Hetherington is scheduled to run through December 2.

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