Lynsey Addario’s memoir of her life as a war photographer, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War, opens in Libya in March of 2011. At the time, Addario, photographer Tyler Hicks, journalists Anthony Shadid and Stephen Farrell, and their driver, Mohammed, were working near Ajdabiya, interviewing and photographing rebels. As they tried to return to safety, they were stopped by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s soldiers at a hostile checkpoint. Mohammed was killed and the four journalists were taken hostage. This scene ends with Addario raising questions that will guide the rest of the book: “Why do you do this work? Why do you risk your life for a photograph?”
After posing the question, It’s What I Do jumps back in time to Addario’s childhood in Connecticut, moving forward through college and her early experiences as an international photographer. For Addario, the hobby of photography eventually became a way for her to see the world while doing work she found valuable and fulfilling.
Her career has taken her around the world, photographing the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, rape victims in the Congo, and starving children in Somalia. During this time, Addario was part of a Pulitzer-Prize winning team at the New York Times and was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant. Throughout, she also shares the challenges her career caused for her relationships and the many treacherous situations she found herself in while in pursuit of a great photo.
Sometimes a book reaches you at a moment where it’s particularly resonant. In this case, Addario’s anxiety about how a relationship, pregnancy and motherhood might affect her career struck a particular chord with me. While few jobs are as physically dangerous and demanding as war photography, her concern that taking time off for family will affect how her fellow journalists and her editors see her – and which assignments she will get – is something I think all women who value their careers must wonder (I know that I do). The fact that she is able to make these varied choices work, thanks to her good work, supportive colleagues, and dedicated partner, was encouraging and affirming to read. I’m grateful Addario was so frank in sharing these parts of her journey.
While I don’t normally gush about the format of a book, I have to point out the beautiful construction of this one. It’s printed on beautiful, glossy paper and Addario’s full color photographs are scattered throughout the piece. It was so beautifully done that I couldn’t help wishing there had been a few more photos (and a little more detail about what each one was – some of the captions are sparse). If you’re going to read this, the hardcover will be worth it so you can see the pictures in detail.
Overall, It’s What I Do is a truly excellent memoir. While the pacing is occasionally slow, the moments where Addario digs deep into her most vulnerable experiences – being embedded with a battalion in the most dangerous region of Afghanistan, her kidnapping in Libya – are page-turning, emotionally resonant stories. I highly recommend this memoir.