The final frame ever shot by a U.S Army combat photographer has been released, four years after she was killed while taking it.
In July 2013, Spc. Hilda Clayton joined the U.S Army and Afghan forces on the front line in Afghanistan to photograph a ‘mortar validation’ live-fire training exercise.
As she was documenting the action a mortar tube accidentally exploded, killing the 22-year-old visual information specialist as well as four Afghan National Army soldiers, one of whom Clayton was training in photojournalism.
The photograph Clayton took in her final moments is not a scene civilians are commonly shown. The debris and flame burst out into the frame, ominously marking the impending death of the valued member of the 55th Signal Company.
In homage to the Augusta, Georgia woman and her work, this final frame was published in the latest issue of the army journal, Military Review.
The article reads:
At the critical juncture of the war, when it was necessary for the ANA to increasingly assume responsibility for military actions, the story was not in the fighting but in the partnership that was necessary between U.S and Afghan forces to stabilize the Afghan nation.
One of the Afghan soldiers killed was a photojournalist that Clayton had partnered with to train in photojournalism. Not only did Clayton help document activities aimed at shaping and strengthening the partnership but she also shared in the risk by participating in the effort.
The article made a case for gender equality in the military, adding that Clayton’s death ‘symbolizes how female soldiers are increasingly exposed to hazardous situations in training and in combat on par with their male counterparts’ and should be respected and honored accordingly.
Since her passing, Clayton’s camera unit – the Fort Meade, Maryland-based 55th Signal Company – has named its annual competition the SPC Hilda I. Clayton Best Combat Camera (COMCAM) Competition.
Her photograph was printed alongside the last photograph taken by her fellow photojournalist-in-training (above). In the corner of the composition, you can make out a camera lens.