Through a camera’s lens, David P. Gilkey showed the horror of war and its toll on the citizens and soldiers fighting in such areas as South Africa, Somalia, Rwanda, Darfur and Kosovo while reporting for the Detroit Free Press. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he would travel to Afghanistan to cover the War on Terror. In March 2003, he was embedded with the first wave of ground troops to invade Iraq. His eerie, green photos of soldiers made with night vision optics were the first images out of Iraq.
He would return to cover the conflict seven times over the course of three years, including an assignment with reporter Joe Swickard to document through words, photos and videos the story of a 900-member Marine Reserve Unit from Michigan. The resulting video series won the Free Press its first National Emmy in 2007 from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
While better known for his combat photography, Gilkey had an eye for the right shot and approached every assignment with the highest level of commitment. His portfolio includes coverage of the Pistons 2004 NBA Championship, Red Wings Stanley Cup wins and Michigan and Michigan State’s NCAA basketball tournament runs.
There are his images in the reporting of the harrowing job of an organ transplant team after a crash killed four of the University of Michigan’s Survival Flight team; a photo series on life along the Detroit River; the Jack Kevorkian trial; and the 50th anniversary of the Mackinac Bridge.
Yet it was the life of the combat photographer that Gilkey loved and lived. After more than 10 years at the Free Press, he moved on. And it was while on assignment in Afghanistan for NPR, he paid the ultimate sacrifice doing what he loved.
David Gilkey was killed on June 6, 2016, leaving behind a legacy of extraordinary photography of suffering, resilience, empathy and humanity.