Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 1, 2007

The Death Of Suaada Saadoun


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I found this a tragic, if fitting image to offer you today, the fourth anniversary of the pronounced end of major U.S. combat operations in Iraq,

One month ago, the NYT ran a story about the lead up to, and aftermath, of a sectarian killing in Baghdad.  The photographs were taken by Ashley Gilbertson, a freelance photojournalist who has been working on contract for the Times in Iraq since 2003.  The photo — taken on his last trip over March and April –  appeared inside the print edition, but never made it into the on-line slide presentation.

Ashley has provided the image to BAGnewsNotes so it might be viewable on the web.  He supplied the following background about this symbol of still another Iraqi life lost:

Ed Wong and I had been out for a few days on an embed in Baghdad when we chanced upon two Shiite militia men attempting to evict a Sunni family — Suaada Saadoun and her family of seven — from their home in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood.  American and Kurdish soldiers intervened and arrested the two men, then returned to base. The next morning we found out that Suaada had been assassinated on her way home from the market. I accompanied the Americans to the house and the crime scene. I saw her family grieving, the bullet that killed her, and the upper plate of her dentures that had fallen out when she was killed.

That night, I edited my pictures and began filing them to New York. I usually transmit very few images: my computer screen draws sniper fire even while on base, and my satellite phone’s bandwidth is minimal if the signal isn’t inadvertently jammed by the military. I didn’t include the dentures photo in my first edit. I second guessed my editors, thinking it was too grotesque an image. When the fourteen pictures I initially chose went through almost immediately, however, I decided to send it.  To the papers credit, the story appeared on the front page with the photo of Suaada’s dentures.

I’ve received a lot of messages about Suaada’s teeth. People seem to respond to the image because dentures are something with which they are familiar; they could relate to Suaada regardless of how different their lives are from hers. I still find the scene troubling — when I was photographing them on the ground, I found them both difficult to confront and impossible to ignore. One woman’s death, to me at least, became symbolic of the scores of people who die every day in Iraq. I only hope that people viewing my picture can feel it in the same way.

If you have questions or comments for Ashley, he has agreed to participate in the discussion thread.

Ashley Gilbertson is author of the forthcoming book “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War”.  Image © Ashley Gilbertson.  Baghdad. March 28, 2007. Used by permission.

About the Photographer

Ashley Gilbertson

Ashley Gilbertson is a photographer with the VII photo agency, and a principal at Shell Shock Pictures. Gilbertson's photographs from Iraq where he worked from 2002 until 2008, gained him recognition from the Overseas Press Club who awarded Gilbertson the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal. His first book, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, was released in 2007. Since then, Gilbertson has been examining veterans issues including Post Traumatic Stress and suicide for Time Magazine, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Times. In 2007, he began working on Bedrooms Of The Fallen, a collection of photographs depicting the intact bedrooms of service members who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. That series was published by The New York Times Magazine, and went on to win the documentary photography National Magazine Award. It will be published in book form in 2012. He lives with his wife and child in New York City. See more of Ashley's work for BagNews here.

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