Wartime photojournalist — the professional side

It’s What I Do, a Photographer’s Life of Love and War

Author: Lynsey Addario

Publisher: Penguin Press, New York, 2015

Hardcover: 368 pages, $29.95

Photographing war is nothing new. People with cameras have gone into zones filled with death and violence for years, bringing back imagery to tell the story of the horrors of war. What are often lacking are the stories of those people who go down to shoot with cameras. Stories of these brave men and women get buried under the imagery they capture on their harrowing journeys. But they, too, face the same dangers as do soldiers fighting in those battles.

Lynsey Addario is a war photographer who has documented most of the wars of the 21st century and details those adventures in this memoir. Her travels have taken her all over the Middle East and Africa, including multiple trips to Afghanistan, Iraq, Darfur, the Congo and Haiti. This book is more of a diary of those adventures as opposed to the stories of those she is photographing. But she also writes about life away from the action and how she deals with herself, privately and professionally, as she dedicates her life to her work.

The book starts out very intensely with her description of her own kidnapping and that of three of her male colleagues in Libya in 2011. She talks about how the situation unfolded with her and her colleagues going against the advice of Mohammed, their driver, who was killed at the checkpoint where they were captured. Mohammed tried to warn them numerous times during the event of the dangers, and his growing concern went largely ignored by the rest of the crew and that ultimately lead to them being captured at the checkpoint. During those few days while they were held captive, she described the beatings, threats and molestation by her captors. The intensity of this experience immediately stirs emotions and highlights the dangers of her work.

From there, the book goes into more of the journaling of her career starting from being a kid with her first camera all the way to the present. She shares experiences of covering the women of the Taliban in 2000 where she worked undercover. After the terrorists’ attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, she began to freelance for the New York Times, eventually culminating in the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for international reporting.

The capture saga in the first chapter is the peak of an intense emotional pull as the rest of the book documents her life and career. Thus, the post-first-chapter is where things become more relatable, as now you’re getting a look into something more real to the average reader.

One of the notable struggles she faced was risking her life to gather images, only to have editors choose not to run them. The decisions were often left in the hands of those behind the scenes who did not appreciate the story behind the story. Addario often dismisses their reasoning of simply wanting to keep harsh imagery from the eyes of the public they deemed unable to handle the raw, and sometimes graphic power of her images.

While most of the story is about her war coverage, it is easy for professional photographers to relate to the struggles of balancing professional and privates lives. This is where her story relates to any number of people in the field, regardless of their particular subjects. The time away from loved ones, the dangers associated within the work environment and even bringing that work back home interfere so much with her life.

Addario talks about balancing the photography of war with her current life as a married mother with one child. She married in 2009 and had a baby boy a couple years later. The struggles associated with such a balance are easy to find in society these days as careers have taken the front seat over families.

The book closes by returning to the capture, talking about Mohammad and his decision to be the driver for the crew and bringing up a very big question. Was it worth his life? Mohammad’s desire and passion to pursue the story cost him his life. But that question brought up not only in Mohammad’s death, but also in Addario’s life as a wartime photographer.

Living vicariously through Addario in this book stirs many emotions. Both the struggles and triumphs of her work make for incredible stories of overcoming adversity. “It’s What I Do” shows how passion and commitment can be the foundation for going after what you want from life. After reading through the pages of her memoir, the reader gains an immense respect for the stories not seen in the imagery.

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