Photo courtesy of Lynsey Addario
Of Love & War: Photojournalist Lynsey Addario on Journalism, Motherhood, and Her First Book of Photography
Pulitzer Prize–winning photographer Lynsey Addario remembers being “stuck.” It was a few years ago. She was selecting pictures for her first book. Boxes of negatives in London, hard drives in New York, “possibly a storage container in Connecticut”—there were about twenty years of pictures to go through. And as she went through the images—of children in south Sudan, women in Afghanistan, war-torn villages in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—she became overwhelmed.
“I had pulled thousands of photographs and didn’t really have a vision for how to proceed,” Addario told us.
Clarity came from Stuart Smith, a book designer and publisher in London. After their meeting, Addario says she started to see the book taking shape. She dumped “thousands and thousands of images” with Smith and his team. Over the next months, they went through the photographs, organizing them into piles (by theme or geography), which Addario then whittled down.
It’s easy to imagine the gargantuan project when you see the final product, Of Love & War, published this month. It’s a glimpse into Addario’s two-decade-long career reporting from…everywhere. Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (pre- and post-9/11). The Libyan crisis. Genocide in Darfur. If a region was torn up by war or in some way horribly dangerous, there is a good chance Addario was there. Her work has been published in The New York Times, National Geographic, Time, and other international publications. (Of Love & War is also an incredible follow-up to Addario’s first book, her memoir It’s What I Do.) Woven through the images are Addario’s journal entries and letters she wrote while on assignment, as well as essays from fellow journalists and humanitarian advocates, including Lydia Polgreen and Christy Turlington Burns.
“I want people to care about the injustices taking place in the world, to learn from the images they see, to broaden or change their perception or idea of a place or a topic,” says Addario. “I want them to care about things they might otherwise ignore.”
Addario has an acute ability to capture a moment and echo meaning into the world. Her photograph of an Afghan woman submerged in a hospital tub, her skin singed and inflamed after she set herself on fire, speaks to the unimaginable pain and oppression women suffer under the Taliban. Her image of a displaced Sudanese mother, gazing into the distance as she holds her child and waits for food at a UN Mission, tells of the human detritus of the South Sudan civil war.
But as much as she documents the explicit, she also captures the banal. For a 2016 multimedia project for Time, she spent a year following three refugee Syrian mothers as they raised their children while living between nations. Addario, who is a mother and wife, talks about this project near the end of the book. “We tried to tell the story in a way that was more intimate, so we picked women and children, the birth of a baby, how to go through pregnancy, change diapers, breastfeed, and keep things hygienic,” she says. “That’s the fundamental reason we did the story that way. Everyone was seeing the dramatic waves of refugees escaping their home, but not necessarily the monotony of daily life.”
A Q&A with Lynsey Addario
There wasn’t necessarily a moment that stood out, but more the recurring moments where we watched bodies of work fall out because they didn’t naturally flow with the other images that I wasn’t willing to give up. It was an extremely difficult process. There was also a moment in the very beginning of our process when I walked into Stuart’s studio and my images were stacked in piles all over the floor, and it was difficult to fathom just how many stories I have worked on throughout my career.
I continue to take these photographs because these things keep happening. I fundamentally believe in the power of journalism, of photography, and the importance of documenting these issues so policymakers and organizations positioned to change policy or help people on the ground can use the information to affect such change. I generally channel my energy and my emotions into the goal of helping people and making change.
I think most people who aren’t familiar with photojournalism or documentary photography probably don’t understand how much reporting and interviewing goes into putting together a photo essay. So much of what I am doing is talking with people about their situations, their lives, doing interviews, and getting the facts straight. Being a photographer is not simply about making pretty or compelling pictures from around the world. We have a responsibility to the viewers of our images—readers of any given publication—to present a situation accurately, informatively, and in a factually correct way. We should not misrepresent a situation, because ultimately our photographs contribute to a collective and historical record of the wars and events of our time.
Photo courtesy of Lynsey Addario
I spend a very large portion of my time getting access to the places I cover and researching the given story. Most of the stories I do are ones certain governments don’t necessarily want to publicize: civil war, injustices against women, rape as a weapon of war, a rebel faction within a country. So it is often difficult and extremely time-consuming to get visas. In addition to this, I generally make a fair amount of phone calls to journalist colleagues who have recently worked in a given area to get a sense of the security situation, what sort of gear to bring and clothes I need to wear, and I also touch base with local journalists and fixers to go over logistics on the ground and accessing a story. I collate and read all the recent stories on a place, figure out where to stay, how to get in (many places don’t have direct flights), hire a driver, and if necessary, get security briefings.
No. The only time I even came close was when I took some time out to write my book and have a baby—but I was still going on assignment throughout that period.
I am much more cognizant of my mortality, and I try to limit my assignments to two to three weeks away at a time. It’s not that I wasn’t conscious of the possibility that I might not come home after every dangerous assignment, but I believed so passionately in the work I was doing that I sort of accepted death as a possible price. With the birth of my son, I am more cautious about how much frontline work I do and the risks I take. This might also be a product of age, and years of near-death experiences—from kidnappings, to a car accident, to Taliban and Al Qaeda–allied ambushes—and having lost too many friends, and witnessing the toll this takes on family and friends.
Or this just might be a response to motherhood. I don’t know the answer to that.