“Trying to convey beauty in war was a technique to try to prevent the reader from looking away or turning the page in response to something horrible. I wanted them to linger, to ask questions.”
On August 19th we celebrated World Photography Day so I thought to review one of my favorite books about one of the most acclaimed conflict photographers.
“It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War” is Pulitzer-prize winning war photographer Lynsey Addario’s autobiographical memoir, published in 2015. She narrates her own story about being a freelance war photographer and documenting the hardest moments of the human condition. The book starts off with her being kidnapped by government forces in Libya but it is sort of a cliff-hanger because the narration of this brutal episode remains “suspended” almost until the end of the book. First we get to see her childhood, her falling in love with the camera and the hardships of building and nourishing relationships while being a war correspondent.
We witness through her words the beginning of her career in South America and her documenting of women in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime. She recounts how she managed to gain the trust of Afghan women, who allowed her to capture moments from their everyday life; the pictures she took during that time are evocative of the historical period Afghanistan was experiencing. Addario shows her respect towards these women as human beings rather than treating them as “objects” to photograph, and I think this shows her sensibility and empathy both as a professional photographer and a person with moral and spiritual values. The photos showcasing her talent and dedication are shown in three glossy sections in the middle of the book, which are also filled with amazing images from her home life. “I found that the camera was a comforting companion. It opened up new worlds, and gave me access to people’s most intimate moments. I discovered the privilege of seeing life in all its complexity, the thrill of learning something new every day. When I was behind a camera, it was the only place in the world I wanted to be.”
The topics of gender and gender roles are frequently encountered throughout the memoir, as Addario discusses approaching the male-dominated industry of photojournalism when she starts working in Argentina. As a woman, there is always the fear of being assaulted and being judged “less than” by her male colleagues; she is afraid she won’t be considered able to live up to the challenges her work entails, both on a mental and physical way. The book also deals with motherhood and the concept of balancing your personal and professional life, as Addario keeps working in war zones even in the beginning of her pregnancy.
The story spans more than two decades and includes the US military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; it touches the most dangerous situations Addario went through, like being captured and detained by government forces along with other three war journalists. Her dedication towards her job is evident in her vocation to document and show the impacts war has on civilians, soldiers and the land in general. This memoir contains violence; Addario herself gets kidnapped in Libya and Iraq, she gets seriously injured in Pakistan. We see her healing, growing and evolving as a photographer, as a person, while witnessing a deep and profound analysis of what photojournalism is, in all its aspects. Photographing war means being present, with all the dangers this compels; she mentions various journalists and interpreters she used to know that were killed in war zones, showing both her pain and resilience. This book recalls the period of time from the end of the 90s to the first ten years of the 2000s, when photojournalists used to cover war assignments for long months, and its pages are filled with all the hard work she pours into her profession, while making us reflect on the risks we are willing to take when following a higher purpose. Always having to travel, and knowing when you’ll leave only on very short notice. Not knowing when you’ll get to come back home, almost losing the idea of what home looks like. The difficulty of building stable relationships with other people, as work takes precedence over everything; these are all the themes Addario’s memoir touches upon.
I have been in love with photography all my life. I started using a camera when I was about seven years old and it is what I probably love doing the most. While reading this book, I developed a deep admiration towards war journalists and now I have a better appreciation for the dangerous, difficult work they do when reporting in areas of conflict. As I am writing this review in August 2022, Lynsey Addario is now on assignment for the New York Times and reporting from war-ravaged Ukraine, posting on her official Instagram page about the horrors and killings of the war, but also showing us new signs of hope while documenting daily life from Kyiv. “I just returned to Ukraine after three months away, and was so pleasantly surprised by how much life is returning to Kyiv.” NYT journalist Marc Santora writes: “Across Kyiv – a city where the future is far from clear but many yearn to find pleasure in the present – Ukrainians are trying to reclaim the rhythms and joys of daily life amid the vagaries, uncertainties and sorrows of war.” I highly recommend you follow Addario’s Instagram page, as she always provides documentation, insights and reflections about these tough times. Her photos show the world what is really going on and they are really powerful, as is her memoir, which I recommend to anyone interested in international politics and nonfiction reports.
SIMILAR BOOKS: I probably would recommend an autobiographical memoir; Becoming by Michelle Obama or Stephen King’s On Writing.
MOVIE ADAPTATIONS: there are no movie adaptations available for Addario’s memoir at the moment; there was rumored to be a movie in the works with Jennifer Lawrence attached to playing the role of Lynsey, but it has been almost seven years and still no further development in the subject. I hope the book will eventually get its own adaptation because I think the story would be great in movie format!
Lynsey Addario’s latest posts on her official Instagram page
All pictures are my own.
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