Books for the News

The real Hurt Locker

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Last night, Kathryn Bigelow took home the Oscar for Best Director (the first for a woman) and her film, The Hurt Locker, topped a field of ten Best Picture nominees (beating out the highest grossing film of all time, directed by Bigelow’s ex-husband, Avatar). The suspenseful and moving film, which New York Times critic A. O. Scott called the best American feature film yet made about the war in Iraq, was praised for its gritty realism, emotional intensity, and apolitical narrative. Though little-seen (it is the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history), its depiction of modern warfare, insurgency, and camaraderie make it unforgettable.
For those still thinking about The Hurt Locker on this morning after the awards ceremony (or its director—how can a women that young looking be pushing 60?), we recommend paging through Ashley Gilbertson’s Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: A Photographer’s Chronicle of the Iraq War. While Bigelow’s film dramatized the war, Gilbertson’s photograph depict the harsh and violent reality. He took great risks to document the bravery of 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. But Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is more than just a photography book; it is a personal memoir in which Gilbertson conveys the exhilaration and terror of photographing war, as well as the challenges of photojournalism in our age of embedded reporting.
Considering that The Hurt Locker‘s script was written by embedded reporter Mark Boal (who also won an Oscar for his screenplay), Gilbertson’s insights into the war, its costs, and its lessons are particularly timely. And his photographs, in all their powerful realism, are more resonant than ever.
Read more about the book and listen to an interview with the author. Take a peek inside the book or download a sample chapter. Some of Gilberston’s photographs can be seen in this piece from the Virginia Quarterly Review.