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It's What I Do by Lynsey Addario

Below is a bonus post, a throwback to a book review I wrote years ago about photographer Lynsey Addario's memoir.

Currently, Addario is in Ukraine photographing the aftermath of the Russian invasion for The New York Times. Her images depict the searing, heart-wrenching reality on the ground.

“It’s What I Do” is a remarkable book by a focused, motivated young woman. Author Lynsey Addario guides us through her career as a news photographer for some of the most esteemed agencies in the world, including the New York Times and National Geographic.

Addario has faced seemingly insurmountable challenges and resistance in the countries in which she works due to a variety of reasons — cultural, religious, political, and even geographic. She has been kidnapped, held at gunpoint, and smuggled through towns in the backseat of countless vehicles. Often forced to pose as the wife of a male journalist, she is refreshingly honest about reaching her emotional limits.

Her emotions–and especially her female outlook– make her work so approachable. Because I haven’t found myself in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, or Iraq recently, I can’t say whether her assessment of the level of hostility toward Westerners in those countries is accurate. What I can say though is that she can capture the pain in a mother’s face, and the fear in a young woman’s eyes, in a single, haunting image. The same cross-cultural wisdom that gives her the ability to take those pictures lends itself to her writing, where she says it was hard to relate to most women in these countries because, through the language barrier, it was shared that she did not have children of her own.

The author’s love life actually has an impact on her work, because when she leaves the countries where she is on assignment it is usually to recharge and meet up with a significant other. The struggle of her loved ones (and those of her comrades) to relate to her in pursuit of her career advancement, and her higher goal of bringing the attention of decision-makers to the plight of women and children in war-torn countries, is real. The reader truly begins to understand how difficult it is for the families and friends of journalists to view the sacrifices as worth it when the journalists themselves become targets for warlords and terrorist organizations.

Addario explained her motivation to risk her own life for her work in one of the more powerful statements in the book: “…something in me had changed after those months in Iraq. I was now a photojournalist willing to die for stories that had the potential to educate people. I wanted to make people think, to open their minds, to give them a full picture of what was happening in Iraq so they could decide whether they supported our presence there. When I risked my life to ultimately be censored by someone sitting in a cushy office in New York, who was deciding on behalf of regular Americans what was too harsh for their eyes, depriving them of their right to see where their own children were fighting, I was furious.”

The book is filled, of course, with carefully selected images. They are powerful photographs, able to draw you in and make you consider the big picture. Addario’s writing is passionate, graphic, and very relatable. If you are interested in history (military or otherwise), current events, journalism, or really the world around you… pick it up.


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