Photo Essays

Soldiers’ Bedrooms Become Makeshift Memorials

Christopher G. Scherer was a 21-year-old marine corporal from East Northport, New York. He was killed by a sniper in Karmah, Iraq in 2007.
Christopher G. Scherer was a 21-year-old marine corporal from East Northport, New York. He was killed by a sniper in Karmah, Iraq in 2007. (all images by and courtesy Ashley Gilbertson)

Tomorrow, New Yorkers will flock to the newly opened National September 11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan to remember the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost on that day. In the long, controversial “War on Terror” that’s followed, many more men and women have died, both soldiers and non-combatants. The bedrooms left behind by some of those soldiers have become their own de facto memorials, as documented in Ashley Gilbertson’s series Bedrooms of the Fallen, to be exhibited at Photoville later this month.

A member of the award-winning photo agency VII, Gilbertson photographed the bedrooms of 40 troops — the same number in a platoon — in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Little distinguishes them from the private rooms of other young Westerners, save that many have been untouched for years.

Gilbertson Bedroom
The California bedroom of Army Private First Class Karina S. Lau, whose helicopter was shot down in 2003 in Iraq.

Among them is the bedroom of 20-year-old Army Private First Class Karina S. Lau, from Livingston, California. Insurgents shot down her helicopter in Falluja in 2003. In 2009, when Gilbertson photographed it, Lau’s floral bedspread was smooth, her stuffed animals carefully arranged below her pillow. Photographs and tchotchkes cluttered the shelves. Her parents were likely too pained to repurpose the room — their only addition was a conspicuous American flag folded into a triangle and protected in a glass display case.

In a foreword to a monograph of these images published by the University of Chicago Press this past June, New Yorker writer Phillip Gourevitch poignantly explains why these images matter:

These wars really are ours — they implicate us — and when our military men and women die in far off lands, they do so in our name. [Gilbertson] wanted to depict what it means that they are gone. Photographs of the fallen, or of their coffins or their graves, don’t tell us that. But the places they came from and were supposed to go back to — the places they left empty — do tell us.

Take a look at a few more photographs from the series below.

The bedroom of  27-year-old Army Spc. Ryan Yurchison, who suffered from PTSD and overdosed on drugs in 2010 in Youngstown, Ohio.
Army Specialist Ryan Yurchison suffered from PTSD after serving in Iraq. The 27-year-old overdosed on drugs in 2010 in Youngstown, Ohio.
Alessandro Pibiri was a soldier from Italy. In 2006, at the age of 24, he was killed by a roadside bomb in Naseriya, Iraq. Gilbertson photographed his bedroom in 2011.
Luigi Pascazio was a soldier from Italy. In 2010, at the age of 24, he was killed by a roadside bomb near Herat, Afghanistan.
Army corporal Matthew J. Emerson was 20 when his vehicle rolled over in Mosul, Iraq, killing him in 2007. His bedroom in Grandview, Washington was photographed in 2010.
Army corporal Matthew J. Emerson was 20 when his vehicle rolled over in Mosul, Iraq, killing him in 2007. His bedroom in Grandview, Washington was photographed in 2010.
A roadside bomb in Helmand, Afghanistan killed 20-year-old Private Robert McLaren in 2009. His bedroom in Kintra Fionnphort, Isle of Mull, Scotland was photographed in 2011.
A roadside bomb in Helmand, Afghanistan killed 20-year-old Private Robert McLaren in 2009. His bedroom at his home in Isle of Mull, Scotland was photographed in 2011.
Allesandro Pibiri was a 24-year-old primo caporal maggiore from Selargius, Sardegna, Italy. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Naseriya, Iraq in 2006. Gilbertson photographed his bedroom in 2011.
Allesandro Pibiri was a 24-year-old primo caporal maggiore from Sardegna, Italy. He was killed by a roadside bomb in Naseriya, Iraq in 2006. Gilbertson photographed his bedroom in 2011.
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