Synopses & Reviews
By early 2006, the war in Iraq was entering its fourth year. No weapons of mass destruction had been found. Tens of thousands of Iraqis were reported injured and dead, more than two thousand American soldiers had been killed, and rates of depression and suicide were rising among American military personnel. Yet all the while, Congress and the media debated what the conflict was costing America in image and treasure, and costing the president in popularity. Troubled by the public's growing indifference to the ongoing horrors in Iraq and critical of his own inaction, acclaimed photographer Eugene Richards began documenting the lives of Americans who had been profoundly affected by the Iraq war.
Bold and epic in scope, War Is Personal is a compilation of fifteen real-life stories that speak of what it means to go to war, to sacrifice, to wait, to hope, to mourn, to remember, to live on when those you love are gone. With heartbreaking photographs and texts, Richards records the funeral of twenty-two-year-old Army sergeant Princess Samuels and profiles veterans such as Tomas Young, who was shot in the spine and paralyzed four days into his tour in Iraq. Richards documents parents such as Carlos Arredondo, who grew so distraught upon hearing of his son's death in combat that he attacked and destroyed a Marine Corps van, severely injuring himself, and Nelida Bagley, whose massively brain-injured son requires nearly round-the-clock care.
Uncompromising and sure to be controversial, War Is Personal is a study of lives in upheaval and a chronicle of greatly differing attitudes, experiences, and understandings of what it means for Americans to go to war.
"The need to see America's twenty-first-century war dead, and to make them seen--to give their absence presence--has consumed Ashley Gilbertson for much of the past decade. Like it or not, these wars really are ours--they implicate us--and when our military men and women die in far off lands, they do so in our name. Gilbertson wanted to depict what it means that they are gone. Photographs of the fallen, or of their coffins or their graves, don't tell us that. But the places they came from and were supposed to go back to--the places they left empty--do tell us."
and#8220;Equal parts haunting and hopeful, Gilbertson peers into the sacred spaces of fallen US soldiers to reveal the things they left behind.and#8221;
In his 2007 book Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson documented some of the most harrowing episodes of Americaand#8217;s war in Iraq.and#160; Years later, Gilbertson was still struggling with PTSD and with his guilt over a young marine, Billy Miller, who, he felt, had died in his place during the battle for Falluja. Bedrooms of the Fallen grew out of Gilbertsonand#8217;s need to come to terms with the human cost of war. It is composed of wide-format, black-and-white photographs of forty bedrooms left behind by soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan (and, in one case, the victim of suicide on his return). Left intact by families of the deceased, these bedrooms are filled with milestones of lives cut cruelly short: a framed high school diploma, photos from prom, sports medals. There are also unique souvenirs: shot glasses from Hooters, a copy of the Constitution from a class trip to Washington, DC. Some photographs also hint at these young soldiersand#8217; purpose: a Bin Laden and#147;wantedand#8221; poster, a photograph of the smoldering twin towers.and#160; Included are not only US soldiers but others from Canada and several European countries. These forty imagesand#151;a number corresponding to the size of a platoonand#151;convey the anguish of war more eloquently than any battlefield photograph and serve as a lasting memorial to the troops who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is dedicated to Billy Miller.
For more than a decade, the United States has been fighting wars so far from the public eye as to risk being forgotten, the struggles and sacrifices of its volunteer soldiers almost ignored. Photographer and writer Ashley Gilbertson has been working to prevent that. His dramatic photographs of the Iraq war for the New York Times
and his book Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
took readers into the mayhem of Baghdad, Ramadi, Samarra, and Fallujah. But with Bedrooms of the Fallen
, Gilbertson reminds us that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have also reached deep into homes far from the noise of battle, down quiet streets and country roadsand#151;the homes of family and friends who bear their grief out of view.
The bookand#8217;s wide-format black-and-white images depict the bedrooms of forty fallen soldiersand#151;the equivalent of a single platoonand#151;from the United States, Canada, and several European nations. Left intact by families of the deceased, the bedrooms are a heartbreaking reminder of lives cut short: we see high school diplomas and pictures from prom, sports medals and souvenirs, and markers of the idealism that carried them to war, like images of the Twin Towers and Osama Bin Laden. A moving essay by Gilbertson describes his encounters with the families who preserve these private memorials to their loved ones, and shares what he has learned from them about war and loss.
Bedrooms of the Fallen is a masterpiece of documentary photography, and an unforgettable reckoning with the human cost of war.
About the Author
and#8217;s photographs have appeared in the New Yorker
, the New York Times Magazine
, Stern and other publications. His work is included in collections of major museums throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia. Among numerous honors, Gilbertson won the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal for his photographs of the battle of Fallujah and in 2012 was awarded a National Magazine Award for the New York TimesMagazine
feature of The Bedrooms of the Fallen