Ashley Gilbertson: photography and social issues

Photojournalism has a delicate relationship with it's subject. By capturing people, often in one of the most serious situations of their lives, the photo has to take some stance. The photographer wants to show reverence for the subject, but also a human complexity that necessitates fragility or even absurdity. Ashley Gilbertson's work can reveal both severity and absurdity interwoven in a single shot. Throughout his career he has maintained a social focus, but disrupts the seriousness of his subjects with a contrasting playfulness, either catching them at their most lighthearted or using his formal expertise to add some fun.
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Gilbertson learned his trade under the tutelage of Emmanuel Santos, with whom Gilbertson shares a formal focus on depth and an intimacy with his subjects. He later learned under Masao Endo, whose experience in conflict zones was a great resource for Gilbertson's future work. Gilbertson's social focus lead him to photograph refugee situations world wide and found him in Northern Iraq at the outbreak of the last Iraq war. Gilbertson's images from the war have won several accolades and were included in Time Magazine's "Pictures of the Year."
The tension between horror and humor reflects the persistence of Gilberson's subjects, who strive within their circumstances for both live and to enjoy their lives. I would like my work to express such human persistence and complexity.

Gilbertson's mix of serious and playful is exemplified here, illustrating a person's familiar goofiness even in a conflict zone. The lights in the room are used as standard lighting with particular use of a back light which pushes the figure out of the photo and down the banister.

Each soldier's body has a quick falloff from their heads and disappearing below their waists, so that each hat stands out and asserts the quantity of men here being enlisted.

The cast shadow over the sleeping soldiers creates time orientation. Because we know these soldiers are sleeping in bright morning night, their fatigue and fragility is pronounce.

This photo speaks of the relationship between a soldiers and their targets, who, caught in a sniper's sight, are all too human. The dramatic lighting coming through the scope on a rifle is also predictive, suggesting violence to come.

The helicopter is represented only by a cast shadow, and spatial orientation is employed to demean the soldiers below and position the chopper as dominating from above; an iconic and playful depiction of war's immensity.

The red of this picture is media enhanced to emphasis the danger of the surroundings and the figures isolated place therein.

The flat lighting of an overcast day is an absurd normality in which to place these threatening young boys. The humongous Donald Duck in the background makes for an offsetting image, typical of Gilbertson's mix of humor and horror.

With both the foreground and the background in focus and in the flat light of day, Time Square seems artificial. The mood and atmosphere serve to comment on the artificiality of war as seen from home.

A single source of light captures the baby at the very moment of birth, commenting on each person's single individuality. The selective lighting and near total black of the rest of the photo makes for a poetic use of chiaroscuro.

The expanded lighting in this photo comes from an above street lamp. The surreal moment of elephants under a New York road sign leads to a wilder perspective on our urban environment.

With quintessential silhouette lighting, this photo depicts church goers praying for relief from economic hardship.

This is an iconic image of hard times; a ominous black cover showing the closing of another car dealership. The shadows in the cover's folds make for expressive tactile orientation.

The above lighting creates a dramatic falloff down the bodies of these churchgoers. The young man in the t-shirt seems out of place in the dramatic lighting, illustrating a generational divide among the faithful.

As a depiction of a gay pride parader, this photo depicts social activism as spectacle. The attached shadow dramatizes the body, and here, it is the body that is the social message.

Julian Opie's model city, uniform and inhuman under sterile, flat lighting, is here challenged by Gilbertson's audacious subject.


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