Friday, September 1, 2017

Review: A photographer risking all as witness to history

Review of: It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War
Author: Lynsey Addario
Publisher: Penguin Press
Source: Dallas Public Library
Grade: A

Who wouldn’t envy photographer Lynsey Addario’s life? World traveler, member of a New York Times Pulitzer Prize winning journalism team, MacArthur “genius” award winner. Married to a husband who supports who work and also happens to be a count. Mom of an adorable little boy. Except. 

Right, that except. Except for being shot at, kidnapped, assaulted, threatened with death, and witnessing some of the most tragic events of our time. But she wouldn’t have it any other way. And after decades of telling stories in photos, she’s written a memoir of her experiences, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.

It opens with one of Addario’s most harrowing experiences at the start of the Arab Spring of 2011, kidnapped during the Libyan revolt against Muammar el-Qaddafi. “Several other journalists and I were looking at a car that had been hit during a morning airstrike. Its back window had been blown out, and human remains were splattered all over the backseat. . . I picked up my camera to shoot what I had shot so many times before, then put it back down. . . I couldn’t do it that day.”

She didn’t suspect that she and three of her fellow journalists would soon be bound hand and foot by the remnants of Qaddafi’s army.

How did all this happen to the daughter of Connecticut hairdressers, a virtually self-taught photographer whose college major was international relations. Despite a love affair with photography that began in her teens, when her father passed along a camera he had been given by a client. “Still,” she writes, “I never dreamed of making photography a career. I thought photographers were flake, trust-fund kids without ambition, and I didn’t want to be one of those people.”

Little did she know that a year of obsessive amateur photography while studying abroad, followed by a move to Buenos Aires to satisfy her travel itch, would turn in to life among professional photographers so ambitious they lined up for assignments to the world’s most dangerous places.

After accumulating a file of clippings an English-language newspaper in Argentina, she returned to the United States, this time to New York as a stringer for the Associated Press. In need of better equipment, she talked her father into giving her the money he promised for her wedding, to use for her professional ambitions instead. To satisfy her yen for travel, she headed for Cuba “perhaps because it was off-limits. . . I was bursting with curiosity and the daring of youth.”

What followed were years of living in India and of talking her way into pre-911, Taliban-era Afghanistan before the rest of the world was interested in it. She learned that in photojournalism, a field dominated by men, her gender gave her unique access to the lives of Muslim women.

Her experience with women in war would lead her to interview and photograph rape victims in Darfur and the Congo, and starving women and children in Somalia during her own pregnancy.

Fortunately for Addario and her readers, when the stories became overwhelming, she was able to return to eerily “normal” life. With her parents and sisters for Christmas, with the news bureau chief she married, and with her child.

“When a journalist gets killed in a firefight, or steps on a land mine and loses his legs, or tears his friends and family apart by getting kidnapped, I ask myself why I chose this life,” she writes in It’s What I Do. “It is the way we make a living, but it feels more like a responsibility, or a calling (as) we witness to history.”

I first listened to Addario’s book on audio, then picked up the print version to see her photos, which manage to be both terrifying and beautiful in the tradition of great art. See her site for even more phots.

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