Fearless combat photographer comes alive in new book
By Stephen Wolgast
April 15, 2021 - Nothing beats resilience in a combat photographer, though resourcefulness comes pretty close.
David Gilkey had both of those traits in spades.
Born in Oregon in 1966, Gilkey grew up with his adoptive parents, Alyda and Dick, who worked in education. David’s boyhood dream was driving an 18-wheeler, and he liked to live on the edge.
“He skied fast, skated fast, rode his bike fast, took risks that were foreign to me,” according to his mother.
“When he was a teenager, I remember telling a friend, ‘I don’t think this kid will live beyond 25.’”
But it was his father’s home darkroom that truly caught David’s attention.
He took up photography. After interning at the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, during college, he told his parents they were wasting their money on his education. He withdrew from classes and flew to South Africa, joining a group of established photojournalists covering violence in the townships as a stringer for Knight-Ridder.
From there, Gilkey moved into war photography and, after six years, scored a job with the Detroit Free Press. He covered Iraq but had to stop: As his colleague Quil Lawrence puts it, Gilkey’s “bald head and wrestler’s physique made him look so much like a Special Forces sergeant that it was hazardous for him to do unembedded reporting.”
He next headed for Afghanistan. On assignment for Knight-Ridder, he arrived two weeks after 9/11 and felt at home in the country’s harsh terrain. As the U.S. war on terror grew and ultimately receded, Gilkey made several trips to cover the military and the Afghans trying to live their lives between the armed soldiers of the Taliban and the Western troops.