It's What I Do
The opening scene of Lynsey Addario’s memoir sucker punches you like a cold hard fist. Working in Libya as a New York Times war photographer during the 2011 civil war, she and three fellow journalists linger too long amid the chaos. Bullets fly, and she’s quickly taken hostage by troops loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, her hands and feet bound by her own shoelaces. Soon Addario has been sexually assaulted and threatened with death. Of course you ask, Why would anyone willingly put themselves in this position? “When people ask me why I go to these places, they are asking the wrong question,” Addario writes in her new memoir. “For me, the conundrum is never whether or not to go to Egypt or Iraq or Afghanistan; the problem is that I can’t be in two of those places at once.”
Addario got her start in photography with a lucky snapshot of Madonna near the Argentinean set of Evita, but her passion for photojournalism and travel soon led her to some of the most dangerous countries in the world. Her lens has captured moments of savage violence and heartbreaking sorrow—in 2009, she shared a Pulitzer for coverage of the Taliban—and her talent, courage, and idealism are woven through the pages of It’s What I Do.
As a female photographer in a war zone, especially a strict Muslim one, Addario fought a constant two-front battle. She illuminates the daily frustrations of working within the confines of what the host culture expects from a member of her sex and her constant fight for respect from her male journalist peers and American soldiers. Always she leads with her chin, whether she’s on the ground in hostile territory or discussing politics. And her powerful images—80 of which lace the pages—make the point more succinctly than her prose.
Being a woman, wife, and mother are essential elements of Addario’s story, yet It’s What I Do is often an incongruous mix of her professional and love lives, the latter of which tugs the narrative away from her stunning photography. The great loves of her life—even her eventual husband—are one-dimensional and suggest men she read about rather than people she knew. And Addario offers no reflective examination of the limitations and potential misinterpretations of war photography, a legacy best epitomized by Eddie Adams’ iconic Vietnam image of a point-blank roadside execution. But Addario is a fervent believer in the power and truth of an image, an activist photographer in constant search of that one photo that can change minds and affect policy. “I choose to live in peace and witness war,” she writes. “To experience the worst in people but to remember the beauty.” B