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6 June 2016
A Taliban ambush in southern Afghanistan took the lives this weekend of NPR photojournalist David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna, his Afghan translator.
Gilkey had covered the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the fall of apartheid in South Africa, famine and fighting in Somalia, tribal warfare in Rwanda and the war in the Balkans.
He was among the first journalists to move into Afghanistan and cross into Iraq, covering the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. In this 13 minute clip, he discusses his coverage of the Iraq war for the Detroit Free Press when a possible chemical attack was a major threat.
On the problem of photographing the war dead, he said:
War is people get killed, they get horrifically maimed and that is what happens when you prosecute something like this. I think people need to see it, I don't think they need to see it every day, I don't think they need to see things that are completely grotesque.... People need to see what the consequences are to an action like this, and it's the fact that people get killed.
He also covered the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, discussing how he approached that overwhelming assignment in this video:
Tributes from his NPR colleagues as well as a portfolio of his work have been collected in Remembering NPR Photojournalist David Gilkey.
The impressive list of his professional awards includes:
- Still Photographer of the Year by the White House Photographers Association (2011)
- 36 distinctions from the WHPA since 2009, including nine first place awards
- A 2010 George Polk Award for his contribution to the NPR Investigation "Brain Wars: How the Military is Failing the Wounded," which also won the Society for News Design's 2011 Award of Excellence and a 2011 Dart Award for Excellence in Coverage
- A 2007 national Emmy for a video series "Band of Brothers" about Michigan Marines in Iraq
- Michigan Photographer of the Year by the Michigan Press Photographers Association (2004)
Gilkey studied journalism at Oregon State University. His first job was at the Boulder Daily Camera in Colorado, where he handled local assignments for the paper and overseas assignments for Knight Ridder. Later he joined the Detroit Free Press where he worked until 2007 before joining NPR in 2007.
As he put it in the Haiti video, "It's not just reporting. It's not just taking pictures," he said. "It's do those visuals, do the stories, do they change somebody's mind enough to take action?"
People in the newsroom called him Smiley because he never smiled, his colleague Tom Bowman remembered. "He was a real character," he said. "He was a real sensitive soul and he was a real complete artist. His pictures are absolutely beautiful."