Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Guy Martin’s last useable image in Libya – inside a Tripoli Street building.
Guy Martin’s last useable image in Libya – inside a Tripoli Street building.

The military barracks in Benghazi, its distressed state acts as a reminder of the violent early days of the uprising.
The military barracks in Benghazi, its distressed state acts as a reminder of the violent early days of the uprising.
Blood-stained steps in Misurata.
Blood-stained steps in Misurata.
Gathering for Friday prayers in Martyrs’ Square, Benghazi.
Gathering for Friday prayers in Martyrs’ Square, Benghazi.
Rebels celebrate retaking the important oil town of Ras Lanuf.
Rebels celebrate retaking the important oil town of Ras Lanuf.

Caught in the line of fire

The story of Guy Martin, a young British photographer with a blossoming reputation, could easily have become one of the lost tales of the Libyan conflict.

The story of Guy Martin, a young British photographer with a blossoming reputation, could easily have become one of the lost tales of the Libyan conflict. 

On April 20, Martin was one of a group of four photojournalists working in Misurata as the Libyan revolution began to unravel.

Martin, 28, had arrived in the country a month earlier after a period spent photographing the uprisings in Egypt. He travelled with the encouragement of Panos, the agency that represents his work, and some support from a Ferdinand Zweig scholarship from the University of Falmouth, where he is also a guest lecturer, that, he says, "afforded him the luxury of working at my own pace and looking for slower pictures, rather than just chasing the news of bombs and bullets. To be honest, I preferred it that way".

Nevertheless, he began to file photos to two British newspapers and was commissioned by the UN Refugee Agency to record the distribution of non-food items - such as tents and supplies - to African migrants who were waiting to be evacuated as the fog of war gathered. Martin would later confide: "I actually never got round to doing that assignment. I ended up doing what I was doing."

And what he "was doing" was working with Tim Hetherington, Chris Hondros and Michael Christopher Brown.

Their work and their existence would be assaulted by three 82mm mortars fired from distance, an attack that would claim the lives of both Hetherington and Hondros - widely regarded as two of the finest war photographers of their generation - and wounded Brown and Martin, who suffered serious stomach and leg injuries. 

"On the day of the accident," Martin recalls, "we had gone out and had been photographing rebels on Tripoli Street as they fought street by street, alley by alley. We were there with a small group of men who were trying to clear Qaddafi's soldiers from the house opposite us. They were so close, they were firing into our building's stairwell."

Qaddafi's forces would launch their fatal attack in the afternoon, the photographs you see here are some of the images Martin took in the minutes, hours and days leading up to his serious injury.

He was treated first in Misurata, where mortars and rockets were landing all around the hospital he lay in, before being put onto a small cargo boat bound for Malta. The drama would not end there, the ship was attacked as it sailed out of Libyan waters. Eventually, he reached the island republic. He would spend three weeks in hospital there (the first in intensive care), before being returned to the United Kingdom, where he would reside for a further two weeks in the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske.

Martin hopes his body of work "gives a wider interpretation and a different angle to news pictures".First and foremost, he says, he is "a documentary photographer. I hope you can see that I was just trying to bring something fresh and different to the Libyan coverage. Yes, the situation was really bad, but I hope that I tapped into some sense of how people went about their daily lives in extraordinary circumstances".

The Review first made contact with Martin earlier this year, when Polly Fields, a journalist and Martin's girlfriend, acted as intermediary, sitting with him at his hospital bed, recording his answers to the questions we posed and dutifully sending those replies back to us. 

In the months afterwards we'd make occasional enquiries about Martin's journey towards full recovery, but the moment never seemed quite right to publish either his answers or his images. The situation remained too fluid as the names of Misurata and Benghazi gave way to Sirte and Tripoli. Martin's story risked being lost in the haze of uncertainty that hung over Libya.

That state of affairs changed last Thursday as NTC forces began to chase the conflict to a conclusion. We contacted Martin to find out how he was, exactly six months after he had sustained his injuries. We felt the time was finally right to tell his story, to show his pictures. 

In the minutes between our message finding its way to Martin's inbox and his reply coming back, rumours began to circulate and then harden concerning Muammar Qaddafi's fate. Martin's response landed shortly afterwards.

"Thanks for getting in touch," he wrote, "Yes, it has been six months to the hour since the blast happened. And a little coincidence on my part that Qaddafi was killed today. Many, many thoughts going through my head now, but none more so than to the Libyan people who can now draw a line under this violent period in their lives and look forward to the new country they are going to build.

"I'm doing OK. Well, my surgeons all think I'm doing great for the time period since it happened. But I always think I can do better and push myself to get better, quicker and stronger than I was before."

For Martin, as for the Libyan people whose fate he documented, resolution seems close at hand. His pictures record a few steps on that journey.

 

Nick March is editor of The Review.

       

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Hajer Almosleh, the winner of the last year's short story competition, at her home in Dubai. Duncan Chard for the National

Get involved with The National’s short-story competition

Writers have two weeks to craft a winning submission, under the title and theme "The Turning Point".

 It is believed that the desert-like planet of Tatooine is being recreated for Star Wars: Episode VII. Could that be where filming in the UAE comes in? Courtesy Lucasfilms

Could the force be with us? The search for Star Wars truth

On the hunt for the Star Wars: Episode VII set, which a growing number of people are sure is in Abu Dhabi, but no one can seem to find.

 With an estimated 18,000 comic and film fans having already paid a visit to this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con, organisers are hopeful they will have surpassed last year total, of 21,000, by its close. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

In pictures: Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai

Dubai's World Trade Center was awash with people visiting this weekend’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. Here's some of our best pictures.

 Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, presents Quincy Jones with the Abu Dhabi Festival Award as the Admaf founder Hoda Al Khamis-Kanoo applauds. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Festival.

A candid talk with Quincy Jones about the UAE, Lil Wayne and the Abu Dhabi Festival award

The Abu Dhabi Festival honoree Quincy Jones discusses his legendary career as a music producer, the return of Dubai Music Week and why he can’t handle the rapper Lil Wayne.

 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge arrive at Wellington Military Terminal on an RNZAF 757 from Sydney on April 7, 2014 in Wellington, New Zealand. Chris Jackson / Getty Images

In pictures: Will and Kate visit Australia and New Zealand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince George of Cambridge are on a tour Down Under for three weeks.

 A protester gives a victory sign during clashes near Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Street life: humanity’s future depends on ability to negotiate and sustain public space

Negotiating our ever more crowded cities and maintaining vibrant public spaces are among the major challenges facing humanity in the coming decades.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National