Remembering David Gilkey, Photojournalist and Friend

National Geographic’s Keith Jenkins remembers NPR photojournalist David Gilkey as a compassionate storyteller, colleague, and friend.

National Public Radio photojournalist David Gilkey and his interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna were killed on Sunday, June 5 in a Taliban ambush in Afghanistan while on assignment. Below, friend and former colleague Keith Jenkins, General Manager of Digital for National Geographic Society, remembers Gilkey’s fierce dedication to storytelling and his legacy as a human being.

Journalists and their editors have been doing this far too often of late: eulogizing their lost colleagues, trying to make sense of their passing in foreign lands on dangerous soil in pursuit of the story, in pursuit of the truth.

It has become far too easy for them to be targeted because it has become far too easy for everyone to be targeted. Everyone is at risk, and we must take extraordinary care to not forget those who live in mortal fear every day.

David Gilkey understood his role in all of this. He was a truth-teller. His job was to use his skills as a journalist to keep us from forgetting the truth and hopefully, to act in order to keep the next crisis from happening.

However his role as a storyteller doesn’t speak to the warmth and humanity that was the largest part of every action David Gilkey took. From photographing the U.S. Marines on the battlefield to mentoring young college interns, David Gilkey was fully present and gave his all with style, grace, and humor. I will miss that most of all.

<p>Thousands gathered for a campaign event for Afghan president Hamid Karzai. <i>From the story, "<a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111605691" target="_blank">Afghan President Karzai Rallies Support</a>."</i></p>

Thousands gathered for a campaign event for Afghan president Hamid Karzai. From the story, "Afghan President Karzai Rallies Support."

Photograph by David Gilkey, NPR

For five years at NPR I helped David get ready for his ‘mission’—to provide voices to the voiceless—on a daily basis. As a journalist his work with photography, video, and spoken word was simple and direct. You knew a David Gilkey photo when you saw one, primarily because everything he did before and after the shutter clicked was designed to place the subject and the story front and center.

Whether that subject was a barber in Alabama, a veteran learning to rock climb in Colorado, a medic at a forward operating base in Iraq, train passengers crossing the Siberian tundra, or earthquake survivors looking for hope in Port au Prince, David reminded us all that everyone mattered. Everyone deserved to have their story heard.

David’s journalistic legacy must go hand-in-hand with his legacy as a human being. Working with David taught me that the self is so much less important than the other. David’s passing reminds me that giving the self over in service of the other is one of the highest callings any of us can achieve.

 

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