Usually you would think nothing of a pile of dirty clothes lying on a teenager’s floor. But what if the owner were dead. Killed serving in Iraq and Afghanistan and this was all you had left of them. The smell of their unwashed clothes – the mess and the clutter of their bedroom remaining untouched. Kept entombed by loved ones, the memories lying around, encapsulating so much grief.

Australian photographer Ashley Gilbertson doesn’t want these teenagers to go unforgotten. After working 8 years in conflict zones, his series of images ‘Bedrooms of the Fallen’ appear so still. There is no gunfire, no smoke, no uniforms, no helicopters or dead civilians. It documents the personal space of the teenage bedroom.

Amongst unmade beds, school trophies and graduation photos, Gilbertson attempts to document some of the personal lives of the 5000 US troop deaths. The purpose of the project is to remind us that before they fought, they lived, and they slept, just like us, at home.

Yet his work does not appear morbid. It is not political. It shows death in the most personal of ways. No life appears in the series of 19 black and white photographs, except the bedroom of SGT. Thomas Gilbert whose dog lies on his bed – eternally waiting for its owner to return. Thomas was 24, killed in an IED attack in Falluja, Iraq.

The bedroom of CPL. Jennifer Parcell appears as any other teenage girls. Her mother waters the plants in there every day. Jennifer was 20, killed by a suicide bomber in Anbar province, Iraq.

‘It’s easy emotionally to just not pay attention’, says Gilbertson. Faced with images of brutal death, mounting civilian causalities it’s easy for so many deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan to go unacknowledged. These violent images often seem too dangerous to connect with.

‘These bedrooms. This to me is war photography. This is the closest I’ve ever got to explaining to people who haven’t experience what I have, what war is. This is about the dead. This is about the absence, which is the hardest thing to deal with” said Gilbertson.

Gilbertson expresses the brutal cost of war shown from the most intimate of settings. This campaign delivers an emotional punch, but does not push to be more than allowing people an insight into the consequences of warfare. Viewers can choose to donate to memorial funds set up by parents of those featured, but no political commentary or position is taken. In an almost harrowing series of photos it allows people to seek from it what they will.


– Nicola


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