Thursday, April 8, 2010

Ashley Gilbertson: a truly inspiring photojurnalist

I'm often asked to name a photographer or photojournalist who I find particularly inspiring, talented or otherwise noteworthy. I guess some people think that because I'm a photojournalist, I look to certain other photojournalists to help guide my work. But the truth is, until recently, that hasn't been the case. That's not to say I'm not inspired by other people's work — I find myself browsing through galleries and becoming inspired by the photos themselves, and less often the photographers. 

But this week in my photojournalism class, Ashley Gilbertson, a war photographer, came in to speak with us. Not only did his work speak to me, but his words and philosophies reached out and grabbed onto me.

Gilbertson photographed the Iraq War from 2002-2008, so much of his work is focused on wartime or post-war issues and PTSD. But his most current project — something I had seen and really admired before knowing anything about him — is really simple yet incredibly powerful. It's a project featuring the bedrooms of young veterans who were killed in the Iraq War.

His reason for doing this project, he said, was because he had seen too many obituaries that were so generic, and he wanted to personalize these deaths. Gilbertson felt it was hugely important to find a way people could relate to these soldiers and this war.

"A lot of Iraq pics are largely a failure because people can’t look at them and connect with the people and situations. I thought, 'How can I reach out to readers and help them understand?' " he said.

He is in the process of taking more photos and eventually plans to compile them into a book.

Gilbertson attributes his success to his being "horribly ambitious and incredibly driven." He began his career by photographing skateboarders in Australia, and eventually he found himself as one of the only war photographers in Iraq in the early 2000s.

What is really special about him, I found, were his philosophies and views on photojournalism. One thing he said that really stuck out to me was to be passionate about the things you photograph. Without that drive and conceptualization, the path to success will be much harder to navigate.

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