NPR Photographer, Interpreter Killed In Afghanistan – NPR

NPR photographer David Gilkey at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2016.i

NPR photographer David Gilkey at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2016.

Michael M. Phillips/The Wall Street Journal


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Michael M. Phillips/The Wall Street Journal

NPR photographer David Gilkey at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2016.

NPR photographer David Gilkey at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2016.

Michael M. Phillips/The Wall Street Journal

David Gilkey, an NPR photojournalist who chronicled pain and beauty in war and conflict, was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday along with NPR’s Afghan interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna.

Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2.i

Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2.

Monika Evstatieva/NPR


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Monika Evstatieva/NPR

Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2.

Zabihullah Tamanna (left) and David Gilkey in Afghanistan on June 2.

Monika Evstatieva/NPR

David and Zabihullah were on assignment for the network traveling with an Afghan army unit, which came under attack killing David and Zabihullah.

David was 50 and Zabihullah, who for years also worked as a photographer, was 38-years-old.

David was considered one of the best photojournalists in the world — honored with a raft of awards including a George Polk in 2010, an Emmy in 2007 and dozens of distinctions from the White House News Photographers Association.

It is fair to say that David witnessed some of humanity’s most challenging moments: He covered wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He covered the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. He covered the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa. He covered the devastating earthquake in Haiti, famine in Somalia and most recently the Ebola epidemic in Liberia.

His images were haunting — amid the rubble, he found beauty; amid war, he found humanity.

Back in 2010, after he covered the earthquake in Haiti, he talked about his craft. The camera, he said, made things easier.

“It’s not like you put the camera to your face and therefore it makes what you’re seeing OK, but certainly you can put yourself in a zone,” David said. “It’s hard, but you can’t get caught up in it and become part of it. You still need to maintain your state of mind that you are helping tell this story.”

His craft, he said, was about more than journalism.

“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?”

In an email to staff, Michael Oreskes, NPR’s vice president for news said David died pursuing that commitment.

  • A little girl jumps across a flooded field containing the sewage runoff from the Mais Gate Camp after heavy rains in Port-au-Prince in 2010.


  • Alex Mertulus, age 10, the son of Magarette Brutus, stands in the mud in the Mais Gate Camp after heavy rains flooded the area in the middle of the night in Port-au-Prince. Both Magarette and her son Alex are fighting a loosing battle of moving around to different IDP camps trying to find a place were they can live.


  • A little boy tries to get his kite in to the air at Camp Corail in Croiz de Bouquets outside of Port-au-Prince Haiti on May 4, 2010. Internally displaced people living in makeshift camps in the city were moved to the Corail camp in an attempt to give the people a safer and more permanent living situation.


  • After the quake of 2010, a man stands on a rooftop yelling out for any sign of his missing relatives in a Port au Prince neighborhood.


  • A man carrying a shotgun walks through a collapsed building while trying to keep looters at bay on the streets outside in the commercial district of downtown Port-au-Prince on January 18, 2010. Looters and scavengers ransacked destroyed buildings with little police presence.


  • Lance Cpl. Jake Romo does physical therapy at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Calif. He lost both legs in an explosion in Sangin, Afghanistan, in February 2011, while serving with the 3/5 Marines.


  • Amy Murray at home with her daughter Harper in Oceanside, Calif. Her husband, Capt. Patrick Murray, with the Darkhorse battalion, returned home from Afghanistan, in April 2011; 25 Marines from his unit did not.


  • Josue Barron lost his left leg and eye in Sangin, Afghanistan, while serving with the 3/5 Marines from Camp Pendleton, Calif. He now has a glass eye which is emblazoned with the 3/5 insignia.


  • Men watch the fires of a cremation along the banks of the Yamuna River against the backdrop of the Wazirabad Barrage and floating industrial waste in May 2016.


  • Earlier this year, a woman walks between two of the tents that house the hospital wards at the U.N. Protection of Civilians site near Bentiu, South Sudan, home to more than 120,000 people. Most of the camp's residents are women and children.


“As a man and as a photojournalist, David brought out the humanity of all those around him,” Michael said. “He let us see the world and each other through his eyes.”

Keith Jenkins, the general manager for digital at the National Geographic Society who edited David at NPR, said he and David talked a lot about the dangers of the work David was doing and how much longer he could keep doing it.

“Ultimately, he felt it was really important to tell those stories and to tell them to a society that can very often forget that we have people in harms way on a daily basis,” Keith said.

David also understood those risks.

Zabihullah Tamanna was a photographer in Afghanistan for years. Here, one of his images of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (right) during a talk with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 21, 2009.

Zabihullah Tamanna was a photographer in Afghanistan for years. Here, one of his images of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (right) during a talk with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on February 21, 2009.

Zabi Tamanna/AFP/Getty Images


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Zabi Tamanna/AFP/Getty Images

“It’s a very hard thing to put into words, the peace you sort of make with what you’re gonna be doing,” David said. “I’m not saying you walk into these situations and you’re fatalistic about it but you also are preparing and making decisions based on the sort of level of threat that is there.”

Zabihullah, who was known as Zabi, worked as a photojournalist for the Chinese news agency Xinhua. More recently, he wrote for Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency. Zabihullah kept a tick-tock on the country. He wrote the big news — when a new Afghani president was sworn in — but also covered the daily attacks and drone strikes that killed militants and civilians.

NPR’s Philip Reeves recruited Zabihullah to NPR. He called him a “great colleague.”

“He was a lovely man, with a great eye for a story and deep wisdom about his country,” Philip said. “He clearly loved his family.”

Secretary of State John Kerry released the following statement:

I was saddened to learn today of the death of an NPR photographer, ‎David Gilkey, and his colleague Zabihulla Tamanna, who were part of a crew reporting on Afghan forces in the southern part of the country.

This attack is a grim reminder of the danger that continues to face the Afghan people, the dedication of Afghan national defense and security forces to securing their country, and of the courage of intrepid journalists — and their interpreters — who are trying to convey that important story to the rest of the world.

David Gilkey certainly never shied away from conveying those stories, whether there in Afghanistan or Somalia, Haiti, Gaza, Iraq and dozens of other places around the world. He was ‎more than a gifted photographer. He was a gifted story‎teller, who understood the power of imagery to enhancing the power of understanding. He will be sorely missed.

Teresa and I send our t‎houghts and prayers for these courageous individuals to their colleagues, friends and families.

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