Park Officials Block Effort to Name Lawn For Slain Photojournalist Chris Hondros
A campaign to get Brooklyn Bridge Park to name a lawn after photojournalist Chris Hondros, a Brooklyn resident who was killed in Libya in April 2011, is being blocked by Park authorities who now say they will not accept proper names submitted to its Name That Lawn contest. (*March 13, 2013: See Update to this story, below.)
In February, Brooklyn Bridge Park, a city-run park, announced on its website that it was running a Name That Lawn contest to solicit names for a stretch of green on a recently repurposed pier. Patrick Whelan, photo editor at the Wall Street Journal, suggested it be named for Hondros, a New York native and winner of the Robert Capa Gold Medal. Soon dozens of friends and colleagues of the late photographer had spread the word via social media, and news about the campaign ran run on the websites of DNAInfo and a local CBS news affiliate.
On March 9, however, several people who had submitted Hondros’s name received an email signed by Nancy Webster of Brooklyn Bridge Park, saying the Park was looking only for names that described aspects of the park. Acknowledging the volume of emails suggesting Hondros’s name, Webster’s email added, “While we very much appreciate the desire to honor Chris’s memory, we are also keenly aware that there are so very many deserving and special Brooklyn residents to memorialize and pay tribute to. And as such, the naming of one lawn for one person does not seem fully inclusive of the
Webster noted that the rule change had been added to the contest page of the Park’s website. It now reads, “We are looking specifically for a name that reflects the geography or features of the park, so no proper names please.”
Photographer Alan Chin, an early promoter of Whalen’s idea, called Webster’s email “disingenuous.” “All kinds of parks and parts of parks are named for all kinds of people. In my own neighborhood of Red Hook here, there’s the ‘Louis J. Valentino Park’ named for a local firefighter who died in a burning building in 1996. Wouldn’t the ‘Chris Hondros Meadow’ be in exactly the same spirit?” (Among city-run parks in Brooklyn alone, Chin might have added McCarren Park, Maria Hernandez Park, J.J. Byrne Playground, or the Lt. Federico Narvarez Tot Lot, which were named for a state senator, a city council member, a Building Department clerk and a New York police lieutenant who died in 1996.)
He said that the Park’s “backtracking” on the rules of its own contest “is graceless and insulting in the extreme.”
Webster’s email claims that the Park would contact the Chris Hondros Fund, the non-profit foundation created after his death to support photography education and photojournalism projects, “to explore other ways to honor his memory.”
Christina Piaia, president of the Chris Hondros Fund did not say whether the Park had been in touch, but sent PDN the following statement: “We feel humbled by the outpouring of love and support evident in the notes shared with us, and, in the spirit of Chris, this serves as a testament to the incredible life he led and legacy he leaves behind in each of us.”
Whalen says the Park’s decision is “disappointing,” but he hopes that supporters of the campaign will rally around another effort to create a place named for Hondros where friends and colleagues could meet or talk about his work. “Next month will be the second anniversary of our loss as well as Chris’ birthday. I feel the time is right and the support is there to make this happen.”
* Update, March 13, 2013: Four days after the Brooklyn Bridge Park changed the rules of the contest; the Park has responded to criticism of its change by calling the contest off, The New York Times reports today.
Chris Hondros Remembered as Humanist, Friend