Photographer Interviews

Long Stories Told: Daniel Castro Garcia on Learning from Tim Hetherington

January 30, 2018

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Tim Hetherington/Magnum Photos

Tim Hetherington's 2003 photo of rebel fighter with a hand grenade in Tubmanburg, Liberia. Hetherington’s photographs “changed my whole attitude towards photography,” says Daniel Castro Garcia, who was inspired by the creative and personal approaches Hetherington took to storytelling and his deep commitment to his subjects.

Daniel Castro Garcia, winner of the 2017 W. Eugene Smith Grant, began his series of portraits of migrants in Europe in order to share the individual stories of people who have often been represented in the media solely through the “generalized, almost pitiful visual of these overcrowded boats.” His ongoing project, “Foreigner: I Peri N’Tera,” looks at the lives of migrants, primarily from Africa, now stuck in Sicily and far from home.

Not a traditional documentary photographer, Castro Garcia says he looks at art photography for inspiration. “One photographer [who] really changed my whole attitude towards photography is Tim Hetherington. There’s such an amazing sensitivity in the work that he did, and an amazing commitment to really sacrificing time to going deeper into the story.” Castro Garcia adds, “His images have a really beautiful feeling and poetry to them.”

When Hetherington was killed in Libya in 2011 at the age of 40, his obituaries noted that he was the co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, named for a remote outpost in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan where a U.S. Army platoon was stationed. But among fellow photographers, Hetherington was revered for his creative approaches to long-term narrative projects. “His work was not about reporting a story but about recording an experience he shared with people,” Christopher Anderson said when he spoke at Hetherington’s memorial service in New York City.

To share his own experience and the stories of his subjects, Hetherington was willing to bend the medium in surprising ways. In 2009, he combined still images, sound and video from Afghanistan in his acclaimed multi-screen installation “Sleeping Soldiers.” His short film, Diary, was a collage of impressionistic clips that move between hotel rooms, war zones he covered, and home. His images have been shown in galleries and museums worldwide.

Castro Garcia sees in Hetherington’s work a commitment that is particularly notable in the work he did in Sierra Leone, Kenya and Liberia. Hetherington’s 2009 book Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold portrays the end of a civil war and its aftermath through thoughtful portraits and landscape images that are often startling and metaphoric. The work reveals the affection he felt for the country and his desire to bridge the gap between viewer and subject through intimate, small details. It is, as he once said of his approach, “big History told in the form of small history.”

Click here to see our video with Daniel Castro Garcia, in which he discusses images from his project and how he made them. 

Want more PDN? Click here to sign up for our email newsletter and get the week’s top stories delivered straight to you.

Fund Your Work: Daniel Castro Garcia Explains How He Won the 2017 W. Eugene Smith Grant

Daniel Castro Garcia Wins $35,000 W. Eugene Smith Grant

How to Win the Tim Hetherington Visionary Award (and Save Photojournalism)