I have many heroes in my life but in terms of sheer courage, one stands out. I’ll never forget that day in 2003 when he became my hero. Fakher Haider was my assistant as I tried to navigate and photograph Iraq after the invasion. We’d only known each other for a couple of weeks, and we had spent the day venturing into the alleys and dusty streets of Basra, Iraq. But then we found ourselves smack in the middle of a street battle between rival factions.
Gunfire and rocks filled the air. I huddled in a narrow doorway, taking cover as best I could while still photographing. Suddenly a man appeared from behind a building. His eyes wide with rage, he raised his gun and pointed it directly at me. My body tensed and my brain froze. Fakher lunged forward, placing his body between me and the machine gun, shielding me. He screamed that we were journalists, telling the man not to shoot. The man paused, nodded, turned slightly, and began firing down the alley in another direction.
In that instant, Fakher went from being a colleague to being a friend and hero. He saved my life by risking his own in the single greatest heroic action I have ever witnessed.
For this assignment, we want to know: who is your hero? And, more importantly, why? Who lifts you up, inspires you, protects you, even saves you? Maybe your hero is a person like your significant other or your parents. Or maybe your hero is a concept like Mother Nature.
Of course, heroes come in all stripes, and they certainly don’t have to risk their lives to qualify. For example, I could also point to Nick Todisco, my high school art teacher who first suggested I give photography a try. He changed who I was going to be and inspired the life I would go on to lead.
Share photographs that communicate how you feel, and use your captions to help us understand why you feel this way. I look forward to being inspired by your unsung heroes.
National Geographic photographer
Click to watch Matt Moyer's short film “A Drop of Blood” about Fakher Haider.
This assignment is inspired by the National Geographic Channel series, “The Long Road Home,” that relives the ferocious ambush the American First Cavalry Division endured in Sadr City, Iraq in 2004. The show premieres on National Geographic Channel on November 7, 2017 at 9/8c. Click to watch the series trailer.
Hey folks! I’ve looked through a couple thousand images at this point and thought this would be a good time for an Editor’s Update for the “Unsung Hero” assignment.
First, I’d like to say I like what I’m seeing. There have been a wide range of submissions, and many of you are approaching this assignment in a thoughtful way. I’ve seen some great images with nice use of light, interesting compositions, and meaningful content. Keep up the good work!
A few things to keep in mind:
- Always think of what your photograph will say to a viewer. Be sure that it communicates exactly what you want it to communicate.
- If you are submitting an image of someone who’s your hero, be extra sure that your photograph says something special about them. Work to capture what makes them your hero. You don’t have to think literally here—you can also achieve this by using light or color to create a mood or feeling.
- I’ve seen a lot of photographs that reference the military or first responders. I totally understand the important work these folks do, but keep in mind that just showing someone in a uniform isn’t going to make the photograph rise to the top. Figure out a way to communicate why you feel these people deserve your admiration. Your image must go above and beyond a general statement. It has to communicate the personal and powerful reasons why you admire the person in uniform.
Thanks, and keep making pictures!!
National Geographic photographer