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A war photographer’s memoir details what it’s like living on conflict’s front line.
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario had been on my Hoopla wishlist for a long time. For years, I passed it by to choose other titles.
Then, Russia attacked Ukraine and while following the news on Instagram I came across this heartbreaking photo. It landed on the front page of The New York Times, and I also watched the video of the mortar strike the moment it happened. While attempting to escape Irpin, Ukraine, a mother and her two teenage children had been killed in the mortar fire. Their dog barks in the background of the video. In grotesque irony, they fall beneath a monument to the victims of World War II. The husband and father, who had left prior to the outbreak of the war to care for his mother with Covid-19, found out about his family’s deaths on Twitter.
While reading about the story I saw that the photographer was Lynsey Addario and her name rang a bell. Her memoir was on my to-read list! I started following her on Instagram and listened to her interview about taking that iconic picture. In that interview she confessed that she wrestled with whether she should have taken it or not.
I decided it was now the perfect time to read Lynsey’s story.
The memoir begins with Addario being kidnapped by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war. From there it backtracks over the events of her life that have led to her being a war photographer. She has covered most of the major conflicts that have developed since 9/11. From war in Afghanistan to rape victims in Congo to those starving from famine in Somali, Addario’s photos are beautiful, heartbreaking, and poignant. Her book gave me a new appreciation to what it takes to be a war correspondent. The work demands a strange sort of fractured life. There are few women in the job and even fewer mothers, which is a role Addario now balances in-between assignments.
I learned so much about what it takes to be a combat photographer. I never considered that you truly have to give up a “normal life” to chase news stories in conflict zones. Kidnapping is very common and some journalists have faced that reality multiple times. Also, many journalists speak of dealing with constant guilt. When things get too hard they often can remove themselves from the conflict and then re-enter after a few weeks of rest and reset. I also appreciated Addario’s discussion on gaining her subjects’ trust, and her sensitivity to their trauma. Also, how she gets shots in areas where women aren’t allowed to be photographed was highly interesting.
Sometimes I found the writing confusing. At times I wanted more details to give me context for the conflict she had entered. Solving this only took some Googling on my part, however, sometimes I wanted a little more historical context.
Lynsey Addario’s memoir was riveting and gave me much more appreciation for war correspondents and photojournalists. Their jobs are incredibly important and dangerous. I highly recommend watching this short interview with Lynsey Addario from CBS Mornings about her book. Even if you aren’t interested in reading her book, it’s a must-watch.
What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
Triggers: There is discussion of violent rape
Rating: 4 out of 5