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Death and Birth

Year: 2006

Authorship: Ashley Gilbertson / FABRICA

Death and Birth

After risking his life every day for four years as a war reporter in Iraq, Ashley Gilbertson depicts the life and death of the various communities living in Vienna. He shows the value of our existence by photographing life’s first cry and its dying breath.
 

When I began to conceptualize this project, it was simply about death. I had spent four years covering the conflict in Iraq, where my work was both rewarding and challenging: I had the opportunity to offer the world beyond glimpses of the war, but in providing these glimpses, I was often confronted by death.

My project evolved into “Death and Birth” when I realized that the reason I wanted to photograph death was to show viewers that our lives are precious, and rich with choices from the moment we are born. To depict the value of life, I needed to show its last breath, and its first.

“Death and Birth”, I knew, would be a life-long project. I chose Vienna to begin studying these universal truths; it's an important European capital, but one featured less prominently in the news than some of its counterparts in the EU. Vienna has a culturally rich past and present, with a population comprised of many ethnicities.

Surprisingly, grieving families were more open to being photographed than those preparing to usher in new members. Birth is a happy discussion, but it’s more intimate than death, which though difficult to discuss and confront, is final. What lies in between is here and now. Life.

 

Featured in the I SEE project exhibited in 'Les Yeux Ouverts' at Centre Pompidou (France 2006), Milan Triennale (Italy 2007), Shanghai Art Museum (China 2007), Tokyo ShiodomeItalia Creative Center (Japan 2008)

 

I SEE

A physical and visual journey of exploration into the current trends of historical, cultural, artistic, social and economic development. “I see” also means “I observe” and “I understand”. Six photographers from Fabrica each chose a story to represent one of the world’s six main geographic areas: North America, South America, East, Far East, Africa and Europe.

 

Commissioned by:
Fabrica for the I SEE project

 

 


Photo gallery
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VIENNA, JUNE 2006: A mans corpse awaits transfer to a cemetary from a neighborhood morgue in Vienna, Austria.The undertakers of Vienna told jokes all day when I drove around with them. Jokes of death, of life and of their work.

VIENNA, AUGUST 2006: A baby takes his first breath as his mother gives birth during a planned C-section in a Viennese private hospital.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: Helmut lays in the palliative ward of a Viennese hospital. His lung cancer was beyond treatment; all the hospital could do was ease his pain with morphine. His family gathered around him to share his last breaths of life.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: Andy and Carla embrace, their newborn daughter between them. Carla went into eighteen hours earlier and spent the next twelve attempting to give birth at home.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: Andy supports Carla while she tries to give birth. Carla had gone into labor six hours earlier and spent the next twelve attempting to give birth at home.

VIENNA, AUGUST 2006: Barbera (lying down) and her husband Sebastian (holding the baby) see their new son Maximillian for the first time after he was delivered during a planned C-section at Rudolf Finer House in Vienna.

VIENNA, AUGUST 2006: Sebastian bonds with his new son Maximillian moments after he had been delivered during a planned C-section at Rudolf Finer house in Vienna. A nurse takes a polaroid of Maximillian for his first piece of identification.

VIENNA, MAY 2006: A father cradles his baby during a Catholic baptism in Vienna as his grandmother watches the ceremony from behind him.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: Helmut lays in the palliative ward of a Viennese hospital. His lung cancer was beyond treatment; all the hospital could do was ease his pain with morphine. Helmut, a Buddhist, seemed accepting of his impending death.

VIENNA, MAY 2006: Undertakers from Vienna's public funeral home dress a woman into the clothes that she will be buried in.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: Women cry during the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen death camp. The camp was liberated by American troops at the end of World War II in 1945.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: A mans corpse is put into a wooden coffin for transfer to a cemetary from a neighborhood morgue in Vienna, Austria.The undertakers of Vienna told jokes all day when I drove around with them. Jokes of death, of life and of their work.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: A baby is buried in a gratis funeral held by the state. The mother was a Slovakian woman, and she did not attend. Most of the graves in the baby cemetery are marked with only Boy or Girl because the dead are too young to name.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: A Serbian father and daughter grieve over the deaths of his new born twins at the central cemetery. The burial had taken place three days prior and this was the first time his fourteen year old daughter, Branka, had visited the grave.

VIENNA, JUNE 2006: A Serbian family mourn the loss of new born twins at the central cemetery in Vienna. The family of five spent the next forty days by the grave, adhering to the strict orthodox process of respecting the dead.


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