David Gilkey: remembering an incredible photojournalist

Credit: Michael M. Phillips / The Wall Street Journal
Credit: Michael M. Phillips / The Wall Street Journal

I woke up to extremely sad news today. NPR photojournalist David Gilkey was killed in Afghanistan, along with interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna.

Another friend who worked tirelessly in the world’s most difficult places, gone.

David and Zabihullah were traveling with an Afghan army unit, according to the report I heard on NPR this morning. They came under fire and their armored Humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. Also killed was their driver, an Afghan soldier.

David was only 50 years old.

He was an incredible photojournalist. His photographs were often difficult to look at and yet I could never turn away. He was so good at capturing the essence of a place through its people.

He won many well-deserved accolades, including the Polk Award. I encourage everyone to look at his work: His NPR profile page and the NPR tribute today

I first met Gilkey in Iraq. I can’t remember exactly which year it was or even where it was. Later, I got to know him better through Military Reporters and Editors. We were both newspaper journalists then — he with the Detroit Free Press and I with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

I ran into him in Haiti, after the earthquake in 2010. By then, we had both left the shrinking newspaper world. He joined NPR in 2007 and I had been with CNN for about a year.  We spoke about our transitions and he said:

“You’re a writer who works for a cable television network and I’m a photog who works for radio. Go figure.”

We laughed. He told me he was thankful he could carry on his work. And it was such important work. David gave us an understanding of people who are so often forgotten.

He said this about his work in Haiti, according to NPR: “It’s not just reporting. It’s not just taking pictures. It’s, ‘Do those visuals, do the stories, do they change somebody’s mind enough to take action?’ So if we’re doing our part, it gets people to do their part. Hopefully.”

We forget the risks that journalists take to bring us important stories. We forget until we are reminded by tragedy.

A few days ago, I spoke with Paula Bronstein, another photojournalist who has put herself in harm’s way countless times to tell the sad story of Afghanistan. Paula recently returned to the United States to receive a courage award named for Anja Niedringhaus, also killed in Afghanistan in 2014. You can see that story here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/05/31/middleeast/cnnphotos-afghanistan-between-hope-and-fear/

I thought today of all the journalists I knew who were killed in conflict. In all, 1,192 journalists have died this way since 1992, says The Committee to Protect Journalists. So many important voices silenced too soon by war.

 

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Vivian Maier: An unsolved puzzle

Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009)
Vivian Maier (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009)

I saw a remarkable film this past weekend. “Finding Vivian Maier.”

If you get a chance, see it. It’s well worth your times.

Vivian was an enigma. A puzzle that no one solved.

She worked most of her life as a nanny for wealthy suburban families in Chicago. And she had a Rolleiflex (and later, other cameras) around her neck almost all her waking hours.

She took thousands and thousands of street photographs. Of men, women and children. At parks, the beach, the stockyards, downtown. Her images are incredible yet she never showed them to anyone in her lifetime. She was a loner. Eccentric. Strange.

This is what the website about her says:

“Piecing together Vivian Maier’s life can easily evoke Churchill’s famous quote about the vast land of Tsars and commissars that lay to the east. A person who fit the stereotypical European sensibilities of an independent liberated woman, accent and all, yet born in New York City. Someone who was intensely guarded and private, Vivian could be counted on to feistily preach her own very liberal worldview to anyone who cared to listen, or didn’t. Decidedly unmaterialistic, Vivian would come to amass a group of storage lockers stuffed to the brim with found items, art books, newspaper clippings, home films, as well as political tchotchkes and knick-knacks. The story of this nanny who has now wowed the world with her photography, and who incidentally recorded some of the most interesting marvels and peculiarities of Urban America in the second half of the twentieth century is seemingly beyond belief.”

A young photographer and filmmaker, John Maloof, stumbled upon her works. He is determined the world know the talent of Vivian Maier.

See her work and read all about here on the website Maloof set up.

Sad news from Afghanistan

Screen Shot 2014-04-04 at 9.21.02 AMWe lost another amazing journalist today.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an acclaimed photographer for the Associated Press, died instantly after an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan, the AP said. Correspondent Kathy Gannon was wounded and is in stable condition in hospital.

“Anja and Kathy together have spent years in Afghanistan covering the conflict and the people there. Anja was a vibrant, dynamic journalist well-loved for her insightful photographs, her warm heart and joy for life. We are heartbroken at her loss,” said AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll.

Two days ago, Niedringhaus had tweeted about a tribute to another journalist, Sardar Ahmed, who was killed March 21 in the attack on the Serena Hotel.

I did not know Niedringhaus, though I am familiar with her incredible body of work. But I can imagine what kind of woman she was. Her fortitude. Her courage. Her convictions.

Just yesterday, I spoke on a panel at the University of Georgia about reporting on trauma. There was some discussion there about journalists in conflict zones. One student asked me how journalists deal with fear.

I did not have a good answer for her because the fear never goes away. It’s a matter of not dwelling on it and getting on with your work. But then, when news of tragedy comes, like today’s from Afghanistan, it’s difficult to remain composed.

Here’s to all my colleagues working at this very moment in places near and far where they are in harm’s way. They make me proud of my profession.

Vivek Singh

vivek

I just returned from a short trip to a part of central India that was previously unfamiliar — Gadchiroli District in the state of Maharashtra. I was there to report a rape story for CNN and traveled with CNN cameraman Sanjiv Talreja and producer Harmeet Shah Singh.

Photojournalist Vivek Singh also accompanied us. He’s a freelancer based in Delhi and we’ve used his work on CNN’s photo blog. I edited the text that ran with an amazing gallery about rising tensions between Bodo tribespeople and Bengali Muslims in northeastern India. It was refreshing to see journalism from India that goes far beyond the breathless and sensational stuff that is common in the media here.

Vivek’s work is hauntingly beautiful. Powerful. Sometimes stark in black and white. It’s difficult to take your eyes off his images. I was lucky he was able to make it to Gadchiroli with us.

Check out Vivek’s work here:

http://www.viveksinghphotography.com/#/home?i=1710

Crossfire


If you look at the map on photographer Shahidul Alam’s Web site, Bangladesh is a sea of yellow pinpricks — each virtual thumb tack pointing to a killing by the Rapid Action Battalion, a security force formed in 2004 to fight corruption in the South Asian nation.

The ruthless guardians of the nation stand accused by human rights groups of the torture and extra-judicial slayings of their fellow citizens.

Alam, a brilliant photographer and passionate defender of human rights, focused his heart and his camera on the state-sanctioned terror; on all the people allegedly caught in the “crossfire.”

In a collection of photographs catalogued as “Crossfire,” he shows us the hospital corridor, the rice paddy, the city wall, the rickshaw stand — all the places where they happened.

In his own words:

“The intention of this exhibit, was therefore not to present documentary evidence. There was plenty of that around and it had failed. The show attempts to reach out at an emotional level. I aim to get under the skin. To walk those cold streets. To hear the cries, see terror in the eyes. To sit quietly with the family besides a cold corpse. But every photograph is based on in-depth research. On actual case studies. On verifiable facts. A fragment of the story has been used to suggest the whole. A quiet metaphor for the screaming truth.”

Bangladeshi police prevented the public from viewing “Crossfire” by blocking the entrance to Drik Gallery in Dhaka. But Drik won its case in court and people can once again freely view Alam’s important work. It’s vital that people see through Alam’s lens. it’s vital for Bangladeshi democracy,

Check out Alam’s work on the New York Times site:
http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/31/behind-42/

And thanks to my friend John Trotter (another brilliant photographer) for bringing the court ruling to my attention.