Photojournalism From the Inside: The Bill Gentile Collection

by Dupe Oyebolu
Photography and journalism students, among others, now have a rich new resource in the 30,000 photographs
donated by international journalist and American University professor Bill Gentile.BillGentilephoto1

Gentile’s collection includes color slides, as well as black and white and colored negatives, from his work as a contract photographer for Newsweek magazine in Latin America and the Caribbean. Much of the work covers conflicts in the region including the contra war in Nicaragua, and conflicts in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. There are also images from the U.S. invasion of Haiti, as well as the Persian-Gulf war.

Not just what but how. 

Susan McElrath, the American University archivist who has been working on organizing the collection with Mr. Gentile’s wife, Esther, explains that the collection is significant, not only because of the issues it covers, but how it covers them. The collection contains all of the images that Mr. Gentile shot while he was on assignment, rather than the ones that were selected for publication.

“You get a better sense of the totality of the event that you don’t necessarily see in the published version because someone has cherrypicked or selected the images that they feel are representative,” she says.  Ms. McElrath also says that the collection is a significant addition to the university’s journalism collections, and makes a statement about the importance of photojournalism.

Though Mr. Gentile will maintain copyright on the entire collection, and wants to approve all uses beyond study, it is important to him that its content be available for students, researchers and nonprofits, without charge. “The reason people like me do this kind of work, is that we want to get people to see the work, and what happened in that historic time period,” he says. The collection is already available in the library’s archives department; some images will be digitized and made available for public access.


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