I have never met Michael Kamber in the flesh, but I still consider him a good friend and a man who influenced my view of the world profoundly. We’ve exchanged probably a thousand emails and talked on the phone a handful of times.
Our first correspondences were via satellite phone. I was in Boston and he was embedded somewhere deep in Iraq. Those conversations ultimately led his essay, “Shooting the Truth,” which was published in our anthology of men’s stories. In it, he talks about how he became a war photographer and walks through a particular incident when the company he was with got blown up just after he had ducked into a shed to take their picture. He did what he could to save lives, but at a certain point he had to start doing his job, recording what had happened for the rest of the world to see.
In the months after becoming friendly with Michael, I’d watch the cover of The New York Times for combat images. Every few weeks a picture that I knew must be Michael’s would show up—a piercing image of a soldier in full combat gear carrying a baby to safety, or of one soldier holding another as he wept—and I would search the tiny print for the photo credit and see Michael’s name. I’d always email him right away to tell him that his picture moved me. And he always emailed me right back with some tidbit about what was going on.
Over time, Michael became my own personal eyes and ears on the ground. I would read something about the war and wonder if it was really true, about the treatment of prisoners or the night raids carried out by Special Forces. I’d just email Michael and he’d generally have a very informed point of view—not only based on what the other reporters on the ground had told him but what he had found out with his own eyes and ears as he took pictures and interviewed the combatants.
My connection to Michael had originally been through Seb Junger, a college classmate of mine who had gone from writing The Perfect Storm to war reporting. Seb, Michael, and Tim Hetherington were all best friends. Tim and Seb made an amazing film called Restrepo. More than once I was scheduled to meet up with Seb in New York City, only to have him call at the last minute to tell me that he was in the editing room and just couldn’t leave.
My most vivid memory of Michael was the day that Tim Hetherington was killed after taking a boat to get into Libya to attempt to shoot the conflict there well before Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown. The first day there was nothing but raw emotion, but by the second day I suggested that Michael and I work together on a piece that would allow him to capture what it was that he admired so much about Tim. Michael, the GMP team, and I pulled together one of the pieces in our history of which I am most proud: “Tim Hetherington: Photojournalist, Giant.”
Running through Michael’s writings is the struggle to come to terms with the addictive elements of being on the front lines to “shoot the truth.” It is heroic and important work, and insane at the same time. He describes it as driven by adrenaline but also by a certain clarifying effect as to what is really important on this planet—which makes coming back to the petty bullshit of everyday life in America very hard.
Since Tim’s death, I have not noticed any of Michael’s images of death from a faraway land on the front page of The New York Times. And because I admire him so much, I hope it stays that way.