Penguin Press (February 2015), hardcover (ISBN 159420537X / 9781594205378)
Nonfiction: memoir/journalism, 368 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Blackstone Audio, February 2015: ISBN 9781481505833, Audible ASIN B00SYNWZBC)
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Photojournalist Lynsey Addario has done much of her work in a post-9/11 world, in the part of the world that spawned 9/11; she was one of the earliest members of the American press—male or female—in Afghanistan and Iraq as the United States began its War on Terror in the Middle East. Driven to document conflict and its humanitarian costs, Addario fought for assignments to war zones and refugee camps, while the nature of her work created conflict of a different nature in her personal life. In It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, Addario turns to words instead of pictures to document the highs and lows of her unique career, and tells a thoroughly compelling story.
Addario is a largely self-taught photographer who was raised as the youngest of four daughters in an unconventional Italian-American family in Westport, Connecticut; her parents’ marriage ended when her father left her mother for another man, but they remained in business together. That upbringing nurtured a particular combination of ambition and sense of adventure that drove her and her cameras to South America, Mexico, and Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, the last of which led to regular work in the Middle East throughout the war years there. Always a freelancer, she established solid relationships with editors and correspondents that kept work coming and allowed her to broaden her focus (no pun intended) to the human-rights aspects of war. After receiving accolades and awards including a Pulitzer Prize for her work, her selection as recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” offered her a new freedom to choose her projects.
It’s What I Do documents the life of a documentarian. Addario’s experiences as a non-Muslim professional woman in deeply conservative Muslim territory give her a unique perspective on life in the Middle East during a decade of American military activity in the region, and a marked contrast with her expat life in Istanbul between assignments. They also exposed her to danger in and out of combat areas; while on the job, she has been the victim of one serious car accident and two kidnappings. But for Addario, the prospect of a settled, ordinary life is dangerous in its own way, and she now works to blend photography, marriage and family to in proportions that elude that particular hazard.
The rough outlines of Addario’s story are similar to those of Deborah Copaken’s memoir Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, published nearly 15 years earlier; the women covered similar territory in their work and faced many of the same personal and professional challenges. That last commonality—the fact that the work environment for women documenting the world’s conflicts in pictures wasn’t any easier nearly two decades later—is, honestly, just the slightest bit demoralizing, but it’s one of the many attributes that makes It’s What I Do fascinating reading.
Rating: Book, 4 of 5; audio, 3.75 of 5
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. Addario finds in photography a way to travel with a purpose, and It’s What I Do is the story of that singular calling—how it shapes and drives her life and how it changes the lives of others. She captures virtually every major theater of war of the twenty-first century and from it creates a historical document of truth on the international conflicts that have made, and remade, our world.
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 profession, 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 society. 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.
“You have two options when you approach a hostile checkpoint, and both are a gamble. The first option is to stop and identify yourselves as journalists and hope you are respected as neutral professionals. The second option is to blow past them and hope they don’t open fire on you.
“‘Don’t stop! Don’t stop!’ Tyler was yelling.
“But Mohammed was slowing down, sticking his head out of the window.
“‘Sahafi! Media!’ he yelled to the soldiers. He jumped out of the car, Qaddafi’s soldiers swarming around him. ‘Sahafi!’
“In one fluid movement, the doors flew open. I crawled across the backseat with my head down and out the open car door, scrambled to my feet, and immediately felt the hands of a soldier pulling at my arms and tugging at my two cameras. The harder he pulled, the harder I pulled back. Bullets whipped by us. Dirt kicked up all around my feet.
“Within seconds, five government soldiers were upon us, pointing their guns and yelling in Arabic, their voices full of hate and adrenaline, their faces contorted into masks of sheer rage. They ordered us facedown into the dirt, motioning us down with their hands. We all paused, assuming this was the moment of our execution. And then we slowly crouched and we each begged for our lives.”