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May 7, 2011

Finding the Chris Hondros “Checkpoint Girl”

The NYT has found Samar Hassan. She’s the girl from slain Getty photographer Chris Hondos’ checkpoint photo, the image many consider the iconic image of the Iraq war. In this photo, Samar reportedly sees Chris’ photo of her for the first time, seven years later.

One question I have is: is this not just a little heavy-handed?

Strictly comparing the photos, however, that there are roses dotting the left-hand corner of the current photo matching the incredibly powerful rose-printed dress and all the blood splotches from the image seven years ago is just stunning. Putting on my shrink hat, it makes me think (and I’ve witnessed instances of this before) that perhaps Samar has retained a strong emotional, if unconscious link to what she was wearing the day her parents were murdered, so much so that she keeps roses around her house.  Her red dress and red nail polish (like little splatters) — also part of the parallel between the two photos — could be more coincidence, but could be part of  the emotional connection, too.

And then, who knows how far to take a such a thesis when you’re looking at a photograph, so great are the dangers of “reading in” … but take a look at the pattern in the couch, and the curtain, too!

Chris Hondros In Iraq

Here’s the link to the NYT story about finding Samar.

Here is the recent interview piece NYT reporter Ed Wong wrote for BagNews about the original photo-story in honor of Chris with a larger series of photos Hondros took at the checkpoint in Tal Afar that night.

(updated 10:12 am PST)

(photos: Ayman Oghanna for The New York Times; PHOTOGRAPH by CHRIS HONDROS / GETTY IMAGES caption 1: Samar Hassan, with a relative, had never seen the photo of her, below, taken after her parents were killed by U.S. soldiers in Iraq.)


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  • Glen

    Poor child.

  • Spanneredbooks

    What a terrible thing to do to someone. There is no gain for her in reliving those moments in this way, and I am unsure what we gain by seeing a photo of her doing so.

    • Susan Donovan

      I think we gain a lot. For anyone who has experienced a trauma early in their life… who is haunted by the memories and remains vulnerable, seeing another person in that same state– the act of remembering pain makes us all less alone. She agreed to put this photo out there? Why? I would want to share similar photos of myself. Why? Well, first what I just mentioned. But another reason is this photo helps people to understand the lasting impact of traumas more than any essay ever could.

      I’m grateful she let us in to her emotional world.

      And you are wrong that there is “no gain” in reliving past trauma– some of the time we need to go back– to confront the fear and make it smaller, or to find the truth– she was just a child her memories are probably vague– but now she can see what happened, what was real. I wish I could do that.

  • Amber Sexton

    Take off your shrink hat. Her dress looks nothing like the one in the photo, and she probably didn’t put the roses in the room herself so as to coincide with this new photo. Not saying the photographer didn’t use those elements, but don’t confuse that with the subject. I’m sure her feelings about the murder of her parents are profound, and deeply troubling, but lets not reduce its effects to wardrobe and decor choices.

    Your question about it being heavy handed is very valid, but your psychoanalysis doesn’t address that question. Your post actually makes no attempt to explore that at all, and is pretty ham handed itself.

    • tinwoman

      I don’t agree. I found it poignant also.

  • Victoria Horowitz

    The new photo looks like a reminder of Chris’ photo not only in the afore-mentioned manner, but also in the faceless man with threatening spotlight on the left replaced by the compassionate uncle and the spotlight of the computer logo as portal to the past photo. These analyses are of the photos, not of the young lady.

  • A real republican

    America is the greatest most moral country in the whole world. love it or leave it. This girl should be grateful for all that we generous Americans have done to bring her freedom and democracy.

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  • Anonymous

    The picture of Samar holding her hands to her face reminds me of the picture of Hillary in the situation room, also holding one hand to her face. In both pictures we rely on this reaction to tell us the horror of the images they are looking at. In both pictures they are almost saying OMG! and covering their mouths.

    As it turns out, the picture in the situation room was not of the raid in Abbotabad because the feed went down before then. When asked what she was looking at, Hillary said she couldn’t remember. It’s also possible that the picture Samar was looking at was not the one we’re told about.

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  • Eros

    Roses? Unconscious link? Oh dear, that is the most ridiculous, beside the point statement I could have expected to read about this photo. Every Iraqi home is decorated with plastic roses. The real point is that it seems the NYT reporter, and or photographer, pulled a cheap stunt to illicit emotion at the expense of this girl. And to make matters worse, it was published A1. The lines are indeed blurring between responsible journalism and tabloid news. I hope the NYT duo learns something from this stunt.
    On the other hand, the article contains some good info that we should not soon forget about the new “forgotten war,” that was, for better or worse, tied to the news peg of Chris Hondros’ recent death. The news peg does not bother me so much, as I don’t really care how the tragedy of Samara’s, and other Iraqi’s stories make their way back into the discussion at this point. But really? Bringing a laptop with horrible images to the home of a 12 year old for a more dramatic photo? Sometimes I feel like throwing my cameras into the sea and opening a taco stand.

    • Alan Chin

      are ways — not that hard — of reporting this story that would have
      been more evidently respectful. More than ever what used to be obvious
      rules of professionalism seem to vanish in the heat of moments. None of
      us are completely innocent of this; I’d
      like to think that I’m more aware of it than the reporter and editors
      showed in this case. A lot of it is just having the right attitude and
      tone, the right instincts. But @e9b02633406e33858c1efb25f682d9a6:disqus , though I would come eat at your taco stand any time of day or night, please only make it a part time job…let’s remember here that Hondros DID do his job as well as he could have, incredibly well, and he then did follow up to help the girl’s brother who was later killed. So don’t throw your cameras into the sea; continue to use them well.

    • Cat

      eros, i couldn’t agree more

    • Michael Shaw

      @Eros:twitter Perfectly willing to admit I got caught between news photo critic and shrink. Appreciate your point, and your frustration.

  • IM Coyote

    Whoever did this is a ghoul.

  • IM Coyote

    Whoever did this is a ghoul.

  • Spaniard

    “taken after her parents were KILLED by U.S. soldiers in Iraq”

    Make that “murdered”.

  • Ween

    Why traumatize the kid even more? WHY DID THEY SHOW HER THE PICTURE?

    To sell more papers. Shock and awe. Fucking horrible.A simple portrait could have been just as- if not more so- poignant.

  • cat

    i dropped the paper in shock when i saw the photo then read what it meant. i haven’t even been able to process how i feel about it yet. i was at chris’ funeral last week, almost six years to the day after marla ruzickas. both were in the piece and major players in samar’s tragedy. chris took the picture and marla saw it in my newspaper, at my home, and the two began the process of getting samar’s brother rakan to boston for medical care. he was killed a couple of years later. marla was killed even before rakan was treated. chris was killed last month. what was it like for samar to hear that almost everyone involved with this photograph – her parents, her brother, his samaritan and the photographer, are all now dead in the conflict ripping across the middle east? the photograph made me deeply uncomfortable but that information, for her, may have been worse. the litmus test, i suppose, with no disrespect to the photographer, is that chris hondros may well have photographed her to, but it wouldn’t have looked like this; he’d have done all he could to comfort her too, and probably have shed a tear for her afterwards and immediately gone to find out what could be done to turn her life around.

  • Cat

    she is STILL a child, susan. her agreeing to this new photo being put out is not the issue, the issue is parachuting in and confronting her with the original photograph of her five year old self. i know there are mixed opinions about the dart centre for journalism and trauma but they do sterling work in trying to educate us all on how to “look after” the subject, not to compound their trauma further. i cannot deny it is an extraordinary photograph – the one of her reaction, i mean – but it’s not a news photograph. it’s a photograph of a situation that was brought about by the journalists who shot and wrote the story. that’s the problem here. we all “get our stories” and go off, often leaving our subjects to their fate. but this story was brought into this girl’s living room by the journalists. the story was her reaction. it’s a well written but utterly soulless story, the sort dreamed up by some unfeeling editor half a world away who’s never comforted a terrified child in the chaos of war.

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