Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer's Chronicle of the Iraq War

Overview

Arriving in Iraq on the eve of the U.S. invasion, unaffiliated with any newspaper and hoping to pick up assignments along the way, Ashley Gilbertson was one of the first photojournalists to cover the disintegration of America’s military triumph as looting and score settling convulsed Iraqi cities. Just twenty-five years old at the time, Gilbertson soon landed a contract with the New York Times, and his extraordinary images of life in occupied Iraq and of American troops in action began appearing in the paper ...

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Overview

Arriving in Iraq on the eve of the U.S. invasion, unaffiliated with any newspaper and hoping to pick up assignments along the way, Ashley Gilbertson was one of the first photojournalists to cover the disintegration of America’s military triumph as looting and score settling convulsed Iraqi cities. Just twenty-five years old at the time, Gilbertson soon landed a contract with the New York Times, and his extraordinary images of life in occupied Iraq and of American troops in action began appearing in the paper regularly. Throughout his work, Gilbertson took great risks to document the risks taken by others, whether dodging sniper fire with American infantry, photographing an Iraqi bomb squad as they diffused IEDs, or following marines into the cauldron of urban combat.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gathers the best of Gilbertson’s photographs, chronicling America’s early battles in Iraq, the initial occupation of Baghdad, the insurgency that erupted shortly afterward, the dramatic battle to overtake Falluja, and ultimately, the country’s first national elections. No Western photojournalist has done as much sustained work in occupied Iraq as Gilbertson, and this wide-ranging treatment of the war from the viewpoint of a photographer is the first of its kind. Accompanying each section of the book is a personal account of Gilbertson’s experiences covering the conflict. Throughout, he conveys the exhilaration and terror of photographing war, as well as the challenges of photojournalism in our age of embedded reporting. But ultimately, and just as importantly, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells the story of Gilbertson’s own journey from hard-drinking bravado to the grave realism of a scarred survivor. Here he struggles with guilt over the death of a marine escort, tells candidly of his own experience with post-traumatic stress, and grapples with the reality that Iraq—despite the sacrifice in Iraqi and American lives—has descended into a civil war with no end in sight.

A searing account of the American experience in Iraq, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is sure to become one of the classic war photography books of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

Mother Jones
A stunning new book. . . Thankfully, we have writers and photographers like Gilbertson, now working primarily on contract for the New York Times, who have not given up on the idea of real reporting. The photographs in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot convey a clear-eyed fidelity to the facts. . . The lurid and the ludicrous share equal space, often to dizzying effect. . . This is the kind of reporting we so desperately need: free of false bravura, free of agenda, free of inflated urgency. . . For this reason, the book belongs less with other histories of the war than on the same shelf with Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. This is not trumped-up news coming live from Iraq but the straight story with harrowing snapshots of the American soul. When future generations look back and wonder where we went wrong, where we failed ourselves and them, it will not be hours of television and radio broadcasts that they pore over. It will be a select few texts, and Gilbertson's book deserves to be one of them. He has accepted his charge and climbed the cliff-top. He has told the truth and does not balk.

— Ted Genoways

New Yorker Online
Remarkable.  An Australian freelancer in his twenties, [Gilbertson] went to northern Iraq before the war and has been going back ever since, mostly on contract for the Times.  His new book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot collects Gilbertson's four years of work in Iraq, with an introduction by his Times colleague Dexter Filkins, and a colloquial, self-revealing text beautifully written by the photographer himself. The pictures chart the descent of Iraq from the initial post-invasion euphoria into the extreme violence of the battles for Karbala, Samarra, and Falluja. They also show a young photojournalist, who 'wasn't interested in covering combat,' learning his craft, proving his mettle, forcing himself into situations that nearly destroy him morally as well as physically, and finally discovering, amid the inferno of Falluja in November, 2004, the strange tenderness that characterizes the very greatest war photography. Gilbertson's pictures from the battle of Falluja . . . perform the opposite function of the war pornography that Abu Ghraib and Zarqawi gave the world: they give back their subjects the humanity that the war is taking away.

— George Packer

Chicago Tribune
Gilbertson’s book . . . will break your heart while it opens your eyes. [His] photographs show violence and blood and desperation and panic; he captures American soldiers as they do their best in an impossibly complex situation, as well as the Iraqis who are caught in the crossfire.

— Julia Keller

American Photo

"In Whiskey Tango Foxtrot we see that Gilbertson has much more to say—visually and verbally. Along with his images, the book includes harrowing first-person accounts and lengthy personal reflection on the unintended consequences of war. Refreshingly, Gilbertson doesn’t shy away from his own culpability; in fact he explores it, and the book is all the better for this honesty. With any luck, the more personal, artistic, unvarnished approach to Iraq represented [here] will push more conflict coverage in that direction. And if we’re really lucky, maybe publishers will realize that the earlier they print this kind of work, the more likely it is to influence public opinion rather than just reiterating it."—American Photo

Chicago Sun-Times

"For more than a century, combat photographers have helped us to appreciate the full measure of our troops' battlefield service. Ashley Gilbertson . . . who has been embedded with American combat troops in Iraq for most of the four and a half years since the American invasion, is part of that noble tradition."

New York Times

"The American venture in Iraq has summoned the whole range of human experience, from the hopes and hubris of the invasion's first days to the dark and uncertain place the country is today. Ashley Gilbertson, a freelance photographer for the New York Times, has followed the war in Iraq from its beginning through its most singular moments. In his new book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, published by the University of Chicago Press, he has compiled the best of those images, freezing the war's most intense and dramatic moments, from the fall of Saddam Hussein in April 2003 to the democratic elections of December 2005."

Mother Jones - Ted Genoways

"A stunning new book. . . Thankfully, we have writers and photographers like Gilbertson, now working primarily on contract for the New York Times, who have not given up on the idea of real reporting. The photographs in Whiskey Tango Foxtrot convey a clear-eyed fidelity to the facts. . . The lurid and the ludicrous share equal space, often to dizzying effect. . . This is the kind of reporting we so desperately need: free of false bravura, free of agenda, free of inflated urgency. . . For this reason, the book belongs less with other histories of the war than on the same shelf with Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. This is not trumped-up news coming live from Iraq but the straight story with harrowing snapshots of the American soul. When future generations look back and wonder where we went wrong, where we failed ourselves and them, it will not be hours of television and radio broadcasts that they pore over. It will be a select few texts, and Gilbertson's book deserves to be one of them. He has accepted his charge and climbed the cliff-top. He has told the truth and does not balk."
New Yorker Online - George Packer

"Remarkable.  An Australian freelancer in his twenties, [Gilbertson] went to northern Iraq before the war and has been going back ever since, mostly on contract for the Times.  His new book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot collects Gilbertson's four years of work in Iraq, with an introduction by his Times colleague Dexter Filkins, and a colloquial, self-revealing text beautifully written by the photographer himself. The pictures chart the descent of Iraq from the initial post-invasion euphoria into the extreme violence of the battles for Karbala, Samarra, and Falluja. They also show a young photojournalist, who 'wasn't interested in covering combat,' learning his craft, proving his mettle, forcing himself into situations that nearly destroy him morally as well as physically, and finally discovering, amid the inferno of Falluja in November, 2004, the strange tenderness that characterizes the very greatest war photography. Gilbertson's pictures from the battle of Falluja . . . perform the opposite function of the war pornography that Abu Ghraib and Zarqawi gave the world: they give back their subjects the humanity that the war is taking away."
Chicago Tribune - Julia Keller

"Gilbertson’s book . . . will break your heart while it opens your eyes. [His] photographs show violence and blood and desperation and panic; he captures American soldiers as they do their best in an impossibly complex situation, as well as the Iraqis who are caught in the crossfire."

Publishers Weekly

This collection of photographs and commentary presents a relentlessly tragic vision of the ongoing conflict in Iraq, where freelance and later New York Times photographer Gilbertson began working even before the U.S. invasion. Based in Iraqi Kurdistan, he missed much early fighting when Turkey refused passage to U.S. troops. Entering the northern city of Mosul, he was outraged to see newly liberated citizens engaged in an orgy of looting, quickly joined by the Kurdish troops whom he accompanied. Gilbertson's camera records chaos descending as the Kurds and Arabs (longtime enemies) sectioned off their neighborhoods and began arming themselves, even before Baghdad fell. In dozens of striking battle scenes, American soldiers go about their business with courage and discipline but show little affection for Iraq's civilians and positive contempt for its army. While plenty of dead and injured Iraqis are pictured, no dead Americans appear (because fellow soldiers forbid photographs), though captions in half a dozen name those later killed. The author rarely passes up the chance to record blood stains, ruined homes, flames and explosions as well as the sad stories behind them. Not yet 30, Gilbertson has clearly studied James Nachtwey, Robert Capa and David Douglas Duncan; this impressive book shows he has absorbed their lessons. (Nov. 1)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
The Barnes & Noble Review
Ashley Gilbertson's photographs of the Iraq war have the power to freeze the blood in your heart. Turning the pages of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, it's impossible to merely skim through the images of oppressed Kurds, stunned Baghdad residents, weary U.S. Marines, and dead insurgents sprawled in the growing pond of their own blood. "It was never my intention to become a war photographer," Gilbertson writes at the beginning of the book. "If people wanted to kill each other, so be it, not my problem." Famous last words. In 2003, he was in northern Iraq among the Kurds, working as a freelance photographer, when the U.S. began its invasion from the south. Eventually, he signed a contract with The New York Times and was criss-crossing the country, following the action to Baghdad, Samarra, Tikrit, and Falluja, his lens capturing the many ways people kill each other. The best of those photos have been gathered into Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (the military's phonetic acronym, politely translated, amounts to "What the frick?"). That spirit of surprise and confusion hangs over the book, both in the pictures and in the textual interludes that dramatize Gilbertson's experiences. He rarely misses an opportunity to illustrate the irony and heartbreak of the events unfolding around him. Here, for instance, is one photo's caption: "A doctor at the morgue in Ramadi stands reflected in a pool of blood while waiting for more victims from a car bombing." As good as the photos are, the stories behind them are even more riveting. His account of moving under fire with Marines as they assault Falluja will leave you dry mouthed and looking at the distant conflict in a new light. Like legendary combat photographers Robert Capa and David Douglas Duncan, Gilbertson knows it only takes a shutter click to bring the war home. --David Abrams
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226293257
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 11/1/2007
  • Pages: 260
  • Sales rank: 662,851
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ashley Gilbertson was born in Australia and lives in New York City. His photographs have appeared in Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, U.S. News and World Report, and other publications. Among numerous honors, Gilbertson won the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal for his photographs of the battle of Falluja and was named the National Photographer of the Year by the National Photo Awards in 2005.

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