Not Again: Photographer David Gilkey, RIP

By Michael Shaw

Lance Cpl. Anthony Espinoza, Bravo Co. 1/5, wipes the salt and sweat out of his eyes which drips down out of his helmet at the end of a day long patrol out of Patrol Base Fires in Sangin District, Helmand province, Afghanistan on May 4, 2011. The 100 plus degree temperatures combined with the humidity of the flooded farm fields make walking and patrolling in the area a daily battle. Photo: David Gilkey/NPR
A soldier of Second Platoon, Battle Company of the Second Battalion of the US 503rd Infantry Regiment sinks onto an embankment in the Restrepo bunker at the end of the day. The Korengal Valley was the epicenter of the US fight against militant Islam in Afghanistan and the scene of some of the deadliest combat in the region. 16–09–2007.) Photo: Tim Hetherington for Vanity Fair

If you follow photojournalism, especially the well being of conflict photographers, you know the community lost another important and cherished member this weekend. David Gilkey, who has been covering Afghanistan for NPR, was killed there, along with his translator/photographer colleague Zabihullah Tamanna, after the Afghan army unit they were traveling with was attacked. (Two years ago, the black hole that is known as the Afghan War also claimed the life of another outstanding photographer, the AP’s Anja Niedringhaus. Our remembrance is here.)

So, what’s the explanation for the photos above, the first by Gilkey and the second by Tim Hetherington? They are from a short post I wrote over four years ago. The title read: “Photo Prize Update: Afghan War As Groundhog Day Trauma Loop.” I’m reproducing the two paragraphs that accompanied the photos because, true to the title, the words actually could have been written yesterday. And how fateful that Gilkey joins Hetherington as one more critical loss for visual journalism in America’s post-9/11 military imbroglios.

David and Zabihullah, R.I.P.

On February 26, 2012, I wrote:

What’s immediately striking about David Gilkey’s photo, named first place in the Portrait/Personality category of the White House News Photographer’s 2012 photos awards, is its similarity to Tim Hetherington’s World Press winning photo back in 2007.
Taken together, the status of the U.S. mission over this almost four year photographic span could be termed ” grippingly static.” Rather than offering any improvement, the message on its face is that the Afghan campaign continues to suck the life force out of America and its troops. To the extent notable photos can’t help but illustrate what’s in the headlines, Gilkey’s photo is that much more powerful given the fire and firestorm currently raging in Kabul against the shaky U.S. presence.

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Originally published at on June 5, 2016.

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