In 2011, Lynsey Addario was kidnapped while covering the Libyan uprising. She had been kidnapped before, by Sunni insurgents in Iraq and ambushed by the Taliban. As a photojournalist, she is no stranger to the risks of a conflict-riddled area.
Sitting with her colleagues in a situation that most could only imagine, Addario reflected in a 2015 New York Times article: “Yet as guilty as we felt, and as terrified as we were, only Steve [Farrell] sounded convinced by his own declaration that he would no longer cover war. Each one of us knew that this work was an intrinsic part of who we were: It was what we believed in; it governed our lives.”
Addario hit at the heart of just that in her recent memoir It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War. She shares stories about her work covering conflicts and human rights around the world, particularly in the Middle East. She also discusses what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. Her memoir is now being made into a film, with Jennifer Lawrence slated to portray Addario.
Addario will speak on “Women’s Work in the Time of War” on Thursday, March 8, from 7:30-9 p.m. in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center’s auditorium. The event is sponsored by the Luann Dummer Center for Women and fits into their yearlong theme “Women & Economic Justice.”
The Newsroom caught up with Addario ahead of her visit to campus.
In your memoir, you talk about the challenging part of being an embedded journalist, especially as a woman, and also the benefits people don’t often think of. Would you talk a bit about these?
Overall, I have found it beneficial to be a woman in this profession. Most of my colleagues are men, and as a female photojournalist who has focused most of my career on the Middle East, and on cultures where men and women are often segregated by gender (in more conservative Muslim cultures) I have access to both men and women, and have the ability to work inside family homes often when my male colleagues cannot.
Over the years, I have done a countless number of military embeds with male Marines and with the Army, and have had to work hard to be physically fit enough to keep up with them on patrols, carry my pack and my gear while wearing protective gear, and to prove myself capable and together under fire. As a woman, I often faced obvious looks of skepticism by male troops whenever I showed up in a hostile location or a place where troops were routinely under fire. I think the general feeling was that women were a liability on the front line. But once I was able to prove myself able to keep up and hold it together under fire then I was welcome.
What are some of the images you have taken that you are most proud of or more rewarding to you?
I am never really proud of images – I am basically always tortured by the images I have not taken!
But I think overall, I am honored to have spent time documenting some of the biggest stories of my generation: the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Darfur, Congo, the Arab spring in Libya, Lebanon and Israel war – I hope they have helped shape foreign policy, and that they have educated people along the way.
I feel privileged that so many brave women around the world have opened up their stories of sexual assault and rape as a weapon of war to me, as well as the challenges many women face to give birth safely around the world – whether it was Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, India or Haiti. I think we all need to be aware of the challenges facing women around the world, and it wouldn’t be possible without these women opening up their lives to me and to other journalists.
In your memoir, you mentioned patience as the most important skill in photography. Tell us about how you get your quality shots.
I generally spend a lot of time with the people I am covering, trying to get to know them, explaining to them why I am there, asking them to share their lives and stories with me and with the rest of the world. I always explain how the images will be used and viewed by thousands – if not more – and let them decide whether they want to be photographed. I think people appreciate being asked whether and how they want to share their stories, and ultimately the process of moving slowly and sincerely opens doors.
What are some of the things you think about when you take a photograph?
How to tell a story, how to convey someone’s character, the light, the composition, trying to include as much information into the photo as possible without cluttering it, and how to be respectful toward my subject.
You’ve done some work introducing and “normalizing” the lives of women in the Middle East. Why is that important to you? What do you think the Western world doesn’t understand about the Middle East?
I think its important to offer a more nuanced view of cultures, of women in the Middle East, of Muslims and Islam. We often hear or see this one-dimensional view of the above, and it drives me crazy, because nothing in life is one-dimensional – especially not a population of women or people. So, I try to dispel stereotypes, to offer a different perspective, to educate people about the complexities of a population.
How do you balance being a mom and a photojournalist?
I barely do. I have a very supportive husband, and I try to be more selective with the assignments I take, so I am not away from home all the time. But I always feel like I am failing at both motherhood and at being a successful photojournalist, and missing the stories I want to be on, while also missing essential moments in my son’s childhood. It’s an impossible balance.
How did you choose, among your portfolio, what photos to include in your memoir?
The photographs in my memoir were mostly selected to illustrate certain chapters and situations I was writing about. Ironically, even though I am a photographer, the writing was my focus for the memoir, and the images were used to illustrate the text. I am now working on my first book of my photography, Of Love and War, which will be published by Penguin Press this fall.
What is the impact you hope your work has?
I hope my work will be part of a larger record of the important stories of our time, have and will educate people about human rights, humanitarian, and women’s issues around the world, and also inspire young women around the world to continue telling these stories!