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It's What I Do
Cover of It's What I Do
It's What I Do
A Photographer's Life of Love and War
"A brutally real and unrelentingly raw memoir."—Kirkus (starred review)
War photographer Lynsey Addario's memoir It's What I Do is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped her life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It's her work, but it's much more than that: it's her singular calling.

Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making—not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.

Addario finds a way to travel with a purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.

Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy; it is that feeling, that empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.

As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys' club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and her career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.

Watching uprisings unfold and people fight to the death for their freedom, Addario understands she is documenting not only news but also the fate of society. It's What I Do is more than just a snapshot of life on the front lines; it is witness to the human cost of war.

"A brutally real and unrelentingly raw memoir."—Kirkus (starred review)
War photographer Lynsey Addario's memoir It's What I Do is the story of how the relentless pursuit of truth, in virtually every major theater of war in the twenty-first century, has shaped her life. What she does, with clarity, beauty, and candor, is to document, often in their most extreme moments, the complex lives of others. It's her work, but it's much more than that: it's her singular calling.

Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making—not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.

Addario finds a way to travel with a purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.

Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy; it is that feeling, that empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.

As a woman photojournalist determined to be taken as seriously as her male peers, Addario fights her way into a boys' club of a profession. Rather than choose between her personal life and her career, Addario learns to strike a necessary balance. In the man who will become her husband, she finds at last a real love to complement her work, not take away from it, and as a new mother, she gains an all the more intensely personal understanding of the fragility of life.

Watching uprisings unfold and people fight to the death for their freedom, Addario understands she is documenting not only news but also the fate of society. It's What I Do is more than just a snapshot of life on the front lines; it is witness to the human cost of war.

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    Prelude
    AJDABIYA, LIBYA, MARCH 2011

    In the perfect light of a crystal-clear morning, I stood outside a putty-colored cement hospital near Ajdabiya, a small city on Libya's northern coast, more than five hundred miles east of Tripoli. Several other journalists and I were looking at a car that had been hit during a morning air strike. Its back window had been blown out, and human remains were splattered all over the backseat. There was part of a brain on the passenger seat; shards of skull were embedded in the rear parcel shelf. Hospital employees in white medical uniforms carefully picked up the pieces and placed them in a bag. I picked up my camera to shoot what I had shot so many times before, then put it back down, stepping aside to let the other photographers have their turn. I couldn't do it that day.

    It was March 2011, the beginning of the Arab Spring. After Tunisia and Egypt erupted into unexpectedly euphoric and triumphant revolutions against their longtime dictators—millions of ordinary people shouting and dancing in the streets in celebration of their newfound freedom—Libyans revolted against their own homegrown tyrant, Muammar el-Qaddafi. He had been in power for more than forty years, funding terrorist groups across the world while he tortured, killed, and disappeared his fellow Libyans. Qaddafi was a maniac.

    I hadn't covered Tunisia and Egypt, because I was on assignment in Afghanistan, and it had pained me to miss such important moments in history. I wasn't going to miss Libya. This revolution, however, had quickly become a war. Qaddafi's famously thuggish foot soldiers invaded rebel cities, and his air force pounded fighters in skeletal trucks. We journalists had come without flak jackets. We hadn't expected to need our helmets.

    My husband, Paul, called. We tried to talk once a day while I was away, but my Libyan cell phone rarely had a signal, and it had been a few days since we'd spoken.

    "Hi, my love. How are you doing?" He was calling from New Delhi.

    "I'm tired," I said. "I spoke with David Furst"—my editor at the New York Times—"and asked if I could start rotating out in about a week. I'll head back to the hotel in Benghazi this afternoon and try to stick around there until I pull out. I'm ready to come home." I tried to steady my voice. "I'm exhausted. I have a bad feeling that something is going to happen."

    I didn't tell him that the last few mornings I had woken up reluctant to get out of bed, lingered too long over my instant coffee as my colleagues and I prepared our cameras and loaded our bags into our cars. While covering war, there were days when I had boundless courage and there were days, like these in Libya, when I was terrified from the moment I woke up. Two days earlier I had given a hard drive of images to another photographer to give to my photo agency in case I didn't survive. If nothing else, at least my work could be salvaged.

    "You should go back to Benghazi," Paul said. "You always listen to your instincts."

    When I arrived in Benghazi two weeks earlier, it was a newly liberated city, a familiar scene to me, like Kirkuk after Saddam or Kandahar after the Taliban. Buildings had been torched, prisons emptied, a parallel government installed. The mood was happy. One day I visited some men who had gathered in town for a military training exercise. It resembled a Monty Python skit: Libyans stood at attention in strict configurations or practiced walking like soldiers or gaped at a pile of weapons in bewilderment. The rebels were just ordinary men—doctors, engineers, electricians—who had thrown on whatever green clothes or leather...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    November 17, 2014
    Addario, a photojournalist, documentary photographer, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient, and part of a Pulitzer Prize–winning team for work on a magazine story about the Taliban, presents a highly readable and thoroughly engaging memoir of her experiences around world, documenting and filing photographs in hostile areas for some of the U.S.’s most well-known publications including the New York Times, National Geographic, Time magazine. She touches on aspects of her childhood and upbringing in Connecticut, but focuses mainly on her professional career and development as a photojournalist in the post-9/11 world. She describes her experiences in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and elsewhere—including being kidnapped
    three weeks into the Libyan uprising of 2011. Addario astutely addresses the difficulties of being a woman in a “brutally competitive,” overwhelmingly male profession. She also articulates the passion that compels her and others to continue this difficult and dangerous work, while shedding light on the logistics, risks, and other considerations involved in documenting world events for newspapers and magazines. Addario’s memoir brilliantly succeeds not only as a personal and professional narrative but also as an illuminating homage to photojournalism’s role in documenting suffering and injustice, and its potential to influence public opinion and official policy. Photos.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from November 15, 2014
    A remarkable journalistic achievement from a Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Fellowship winner that crystalizes the last 10 years of global war and strife while candidly portraying the intimate life of a female photojournalist.Over the last decade, Addario has been periodically beaten, robbed, kidnapped, shot at and sexually assaulted from one end of the Middle East and North Africa to the other. Risking her life for images that might change public policy, she ran into Taliban fighters who fired on her in the Korengal Valley, Gadhafi loyalists who imprisoned her in Libya and Israeli soldiers who abused her outside the Gaza Strip. A deadly car accident in Pakistan nearly claimed her life. Many of Addario's friends and colleagues did die during that time, while lovers faded away and family members freaked out. But such was the cost of the author's life's work. Told with unflinching candor, the award-winning photographer brings an incredible sense of humanity to all the battlefields of her life. Especially affecting is the way in which Addario conveys the role of gender and how being a woman has impacted every aspect of her personal and professional lives. Whether dealing with ultrareligious zealots or overly demanding editors, being a woman with a camera has never been an easy task. Somewhere amid Addario's dizzying odyssey, she also became a mother. However, instead of slowing her down, it only deepened the battle-hardened correspondent's insight into the lives of those she so courageously sought to photograph. "Just as in Somalia," she writes, "when I had felt my baby moving inside me as I witnessed the suffering of other infants, I could suddenly understand, in a new, profound, and enraging way, the way most people in the world lived." A brutally real and unrelentingly raw memoir that is as inspiring as it is horrific.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2014
    Addario isn't just any photojournalist--she's a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and a Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting who came to everyone's attention when she was kidnapped by pro-Qaddafi forces during Libya's civil war. Here, she details the work she's done--photographing the Afghan people before and after the Taliban ascendancy, for instance, and violence against women in the Congo--even as she tells her personal story. With a national tour.

    Copyright 2014 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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