It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War
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“An unflinching memoir . . . [that] offers insight into international events and the challenges faced by the journalists who capture them.” —The Washington Post
War photographer Lynsey Addario’s memoir is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped her life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It’s her work, but it’s much more than that: it’s her singular calling.
Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She decides to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.
Addario finds a way to travel with a purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.
As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys’ club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and her career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.
Watching uprisings unfold and people fight to the death for their freedom, Addario understands she is documenting not only news but also the fate of societies. It’s What I Do is more than just a snapshot of life on the front lines; it is witness to the human cost of war.
Over a drink at the UN club in Islamabad, she casually navigated me through the process of working under the Taliban, offered me a place to stay at the AP house in Kabul, and put me in touch with Amir Shah, the AP’s local stringer. Her enthusiasm eased some of my fear. The next morning I wondered what to wear to the Embassy of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. I forgot to ask Kathy that most basic question. But I knew that modesty was essential. Afghan women wore burqas, but Western women in
medic’s tent. The commander at the KOP, Captain Dan Kearney, greeted us, but our attention quickly shifted to the scene inside. Afghan boys had been brought to the base practically in shock, with superficial lacerations on their faces and bodies. Their families told the army medics that the wounds were from shrapnel from the evening before—presumably from the bombs we had watched explode on the screens at the TOC. We had flown into the very scene we had wanted to document: the effects of the war
avenge Rougle’s death and Rice’s and Vandenberge’s injuries. It was only going to get bloodier. “Kearney? Is there any way to get me out of here?” I cringed as I asked him to also deal with me: a freaked-out girl who was pleading to be extracted from the middle of a hostile ridgeline, where every Black Hawk flight in risked getting shot down by an insurgent on the mountain. “I’ll see what I can do, Addario,” Kearney said. “There isn’t much air willing to come in here. It’s hot.” That night I
was injured in the bombing the night before. Captain Kearney even expressed this to the editor in chief on our behalf, and the debate went on for days. But because of my incomplete caption, the editor trusted the U.S. military public affairs officer—whose main responsibility was to polish the image of the U.S. military to the greater public—over us. To make matters worse, from the time we set off to document the story in the Korengal to the final two weeks of the story’s closing, the angle of
wasn’t sure how to capture the scene I was experiencing. Each Thursday I went back to the plaza, unsatisfied with the images I had composed the week before. I sensed I was too removed from the women, so I got a little closer to them as they circled the plaza. I tried to frame their pain and unresolved sadness in my viewfinder. Sometimes their expressions were shielded by dark shadows on their faces, because they were in the wrong place in relation to the sunlight. Sometimes I was simply too