A Tribute to OSU alum David Gilkey

Thanks to Special Collections and Archives Research Center Director Larry Landis for this lovely tribute to David Gilkey. 

Photographer David Gilkey, website photo without attribution.

Photographer David Gilkey, website photo without attribution.

I never met David Gilkey. But I shed a tear Sunday evening when I learned that the National Public Radio photographer/videographer was killed earlier that day in Afghanistan, along with his NPR translator, Zabihullah Tamanna. David attended OSU in the mid 1980s and went on to become an award-winning photographer with the Detroit Free Press and National Public Radio.

There were two degrees of separation between David and me. I know his father, Richard (Dick) Gilkey, who was an OSU alumnus (BS 1951 and MS 1953) and an excellent photographer in his own right. Dick was a student photographer here, taking photographs of campus events for the Barometer, Beaver yearbook, and the Oregon Stater. He was shooting cover images for the Stater as a sophomore and working as a stringer for the Oregon Journal newspaper in Portland. Clearly, photographic talent runs deep in the Gilkey family.

Richard Gilkey

Richard Gilkey

Dick, long a friend of the OSU Libraries and Press, donated the photographs from his student days to SCARC in 2004 and 2005. The more than 1,000 images in the collection document student life, athletic events and facilities, drama productions. He created an iconic series of portraits of several Oregon State faculty, some of which were used as Stater cover images. One of my favorite Gilkey images is of students taking final exams in the MU ballroom. I used it as the opening image for chapter 5, “Academics at OSU,” in A School for the People: A Pictorial History of Oregon State University. The book also includes a wonderful portrait of Richard as a student photographer.

P252_PUM64_FinalExams copy

David and Dick are both a part of a long and rich photographic tradition and legacy at OSU, which dates back to 1891 when a local studio photographer named Emile Pernot was hired by Oregon Agricultural College to teach photography. There are few, if any, colleges or universities that can lay claim to offering photography as a for-credit course earlier than 1891. Others who have more recently been a part of OSU’s photo tradition include Chris Johns, editor in chief of National Geographic Magazine; Roger Werth, Pulitzer prize winning photographer for the Longview (Wash.) Daily News, who captured the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens; and Cheryl Hatch, who like Gilkey is an award winning photographer who has covered armed conflicts around the world.

Unfortunately, SCARC’s holdings don’t include an image of David Gilkey while a student at OSU. An image from the 1986 yearbook is captioned “Dave Gilkey has some 4-wheelin’ fun in the snow,” but the person behind the wheel of the pickup could be anyone. A few of his photos show up in the 1987 and 1988 yearbooks.

I’ve casually followed David’s career for the past few years, occasionally checking his NPR website for new work. Although best known for his images of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, he also covered the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, visited Cuba in 2014, and just last month was in India with NPR All Things Considered co-host Ari Shapiro, also a Portland area native.

Dick sent me a note in late 2015 regarding the publication of A School for the People.  He added a note about David, saying that he had recently added an Edward R. Murrow Award to his list of honors.

Beaver Nation mourns the passing of David Gilkey, one of our own, and we send our heartfelt condolences to his family in Portland. But we can also celebrate the photographs David took, which in the words of NPR’s Ariel Zambelich, “brought us the world and made us all care.”

Larry Landis

This entry was posted in Main Page. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *