One of my keen interests is about risk-taking—the people that take them and what underlying pull nags at them to take the leap consistently. Is it the adrenaline rush? That’s certainly there depending on how great the risk. Or is it something else that’s driving them?
Lynsey Addario is one of those people. Her memoir It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War tells her story. She didn’t start out to be a conflict photographer, one who goes into war-torn areas and refugee camps, right in the middle of it. This eventuality wasn’t even on her radar when she took a job as a professional photographer at the Buenos Aires Herald at the age of 23, never having trained as a photographer. Yet, as willingness lays out a path, at 26 she traveled to Afghanistan to interview women living under the Taliban. How did she even do that? I’m guessing troubling thoughts at least flitted through her mind. She was moving into a field almost solely dominated by males and all it came with…that the course was filled with threat of all sorts around nearly every corner…that she was sacrificing any ‘normal’ love or family life. All this in addition to witnessing graphic horror, so much on a daily basis, the kind that typically gives nightmares for years to come.
Clearly, she set these concerns aside. Lynsey Addario wanted to tell the truth, what was happening in such places and times. Not the media spin or political propaganda. She had something most men in the field wouldn’t think to entertain. She had the women, and men who let themselves, willing to tell their stories, which she captured in images. She knew how to hear them and wanted the world to know. That was her calling—humanitarian issues and human rights.
Over the years, she’s twice been kidnapped and periodically in areas where troops had been ordered to kill journalists, which happened. Her photographs relayed people’s stories and the realities of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan and the Congo. Sometimes her images weren’t published—too politically sensitive—she was told. And the truth remained veiled.
Sometimes she was called out by critics for the photographs she took. Too intrusive, disrespectful. Lynsey Addario’s images for Maternal Mortality in Sierra Leone: The Story of Mamma Sessay (!) is the graphic accounting of a teenaged mother traveling by canoe from her village seeking medical intervention to birth the second of twins, still in her belly. She did not get the help she needed and died a terrible death. “In Sierra Leone, 1033 women die for every 100,00 live births…This statistic is made more tragic by the fact that the deaths are almost always preventable.” Unnecessary maternal deaths are high across much of the world, including the US. It’s because of such publicity, keeping nothing under wraps, that it can’t be ignored and prevention is more likely. As brought to its attention, the UN created Every Woman Every Child, “a long-term effort with global health partners to create a world where no woman has to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth.”
I imagine this is the effect she hoped for when she took those photographs of Mamma Sessay.
It’s What I do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War is available in print, ebook and audio book. I listened to the audio book and highly recommend.
! A warning the images—shot by Lynsey Addario and published by Time Magazine—contained in the link are a graphic series of suffering and maternal death in childbirth. The child survived.