Pulitzer Prize-winning conflict photographer Lynsey Addario’s memoir “It’s What I Do: A Photojournalist’s Life of Love and War” is about more than just photojournalism. In a novel-like fashion, Addario weaves a complex tale of love, pain and exploration as she recounts her life, from the early years of her career in Latin America to her evocative documentation of women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Addario begins her memoir discussing her home life, and while it initially seems irrelevant in the overall theme of intense, adrenaline-filled conflict photojournalism, the chapter serves as a bedrock to fully understand Addario’s roots and values that drove her to pursue such a career. She describes, in frank but loving detail, the unorthodox dynamics of her family with imagery so rich that the reader can’t help becoming immersed in her world.
From there, Addario discusses breaking into the male-dominated profession of photojournalism during her time in Argentina as she persistently lobbied her editors for a job. She talks about what she learned in those early years, and how the kindness of other photographers helped propel her to succeed.
As an aspiring photojournalist myself, it felt validating to hear the mistakes that the now-famous photographer made as she began — mistakes that can feel crushing when you’re new to such a competitive and fast-paced job. Addario’s drive and willingness to take more and more assignments and challenge herself are some of the most inspiring stories her book has to offer to those wanting to become a news photographer.
Fast-forward to her time in Afghanistan where she recalls her tense but eye-opening work as she attempts to maneuver around the watchful eye of the Taliban government to capture life as it truly was for locals. Her bravery and social tact — essential qualities for a photojournalist — shine through in this section, and I found myself intrigued to gain a new, intimate understanding of a culture that has generally been shrouded in wartime propaganda and xenophobia throughout my lifetime.
She talks about using her gender to her advantage, gaining the trust of women in the region that men simply could not obtain at the same level. This access led to evocative and authentic images of women in the country that allowed her to tell her story. I appreciated how she offered insight on how a photographer should be sensitive to their subjects and to understand and respect them as human beings rather than just something to photograph.
Addario shifts to a new narrative as the U.S. began military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She talks about her anxious rush to find appropriate body armor to accompany her documentation of the Iraq war and the logistical hurdles of finding drivers and guides in a war zone. She recounts the horror of being in proximity to a car bomb and the numbness and shock of her colleagues after a nearby cameraman was killed. It was a chapter that made my heart ache and my blood boil as it showed the warts-and-all reality of a profession I intend to pursue.
Later, Addario discusses her harrowing ordeal in Libya as herself and three other journalists were captured, detained and beaten by government forces. She details the fear and uncertainty of such a situation, but also highlights the incredible resilience needed to survive.
Throughout all of it, Addario consistently comes back to the true purpose of why she was there: to document and show the world the impacts of war. Her persistence and dedication for her craft are inspiring as she returns to work despite the traumatic events she experienced.
Interwoven throughout these stories and so many others is the theme of love in her own life. As a photojournalist being sent all over the world to some of the most dangerous situations, she highlights the difficulty in maintaining relationships and starting a family with the kind of lifestyle she leads.
Addario’s book is more important now than ever to read, following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The images we see from that conflict should remind us of the great risk photojournalists take to bring us the truth and how they see their duty to bring the truth to the world in powerful images. Addario is, in fact, working in Ukraine now and continues to deliver powerful and poignant images of the true cost of war.
Liam DeBonis is the copy chief at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @LiamDebonis
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