In this VII Interactive Book Club, record­ed live on May 19, 2020, Ashley Gilbertson dis­cuss­es his book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, with mod­er­a­tor Ziyah Gafic.

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. 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.

This lec­ture was orig­i­nal­ly host­ed at VII Interactive, a new resource for shar­ing insights and infor­ma­tion on the craft of visu­al sto­ry­telling. We are build­ing dif­fer­ent plat­forms with­in the VII ecosys­tem, where the pub­lic can engage direct­ly, online with a live instruc­tor. VII Interactive offers pro­gram­ming that is free and avail­able to every­one, in addi­tion to paid class­es and indi­vid­ual men­tor­ing that can be fash­ioned to your needs.