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Kidnappings Inspire Photojournalist Lynsey Addario's Memoir


Lynsey Addario has traveled the world photographing war, refugees and famine. She has come close to being killed in an ambush in the rugged Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, a kidnapping in Fallujah, Iraq...


And during the Arab Spring, she was captured in Libya by Moammar Gadhafi's soldiers. Three other journalists were with her, including the late correspondent Anthony Shadid.

MONTAGNE: Addario told us about that experience back in 2011.


LYNSEY ADDARIO: One of the troops was sitting in the passenger seat, I guess, and leaning back, and he just kept caressing my hair in this sort of sick way and touching my cheekbones and touching my eye and repeated saying this phrase over and over and over in, like, a very calm, affectionate voice. And I finally said to Anthony, what is he saying? And Anthony said, you're going to die tonight.

MONTAGNE: That harrowing moment helped inspire the title of her new memoir, "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War."


ADDARIO: Most people, when they meet me, one of the first things they say is, why would you voluntarily subject yourself to war? Why would you go into these places where you know there's a risk of getting killed? And for me, I never - in all of these years, I haven't been able to hone in on the - an answer that's different from - I don't know, it's what I do.

MONTAGNE: Lynsey Addario's award-winning photos have appeared in The New York Times, Time magazine and National Geographic. When she joined us to talk about her memoir, she said she did not even consider photojournalism as a career until after college. Yet her rather unconventional childhood did prepare her in some ways for going boldly out into the world and meeting all kinds of people. Her parents owned a hair salon in Westport, Conn., and her home became a gathering place for charming characters and beloved outsiders.

ADDARIO: I never thought of it as something that was strange to come home from school and see a man dressed as a woman playing show tunes on the piano. For me, it was just sort of how it was. There were always people, who in society at that time, would have been seen as marginalized, but my parents never put those judgments on anyone. They just said this is this Vito (ph) or this is - you know, and whoever was there, they were part of the family.

MONTAGNE: Well, did it in any way shape your choice of subjects?

ADDARIO: I definitely think - in the '90s, I did a big story on transgender prostitutes in the Meatpacking District. And it took a long time to gain their trust because they were, at that time, a group of people who were incredibly marginalized in New York. There was a series of murders going on in their community. I was just some white girl from Connecticut, and why would they trust me? But in the end, they did end up letting me in, and I felt very comfortable because it was something that I felt like I had grown up with.

MONTAGNE: Well, we spoke several years ago about your experience being kidnapped in Libya by Gadhafi's soldiers. Let me ask you about some of the really dark moments that you've experienced.


MONTAGNE: You went to Africa and write that you were confronted with scenes and situations that actually changed your life. How so?

ADDARIO: Well, I think just - when I started working in Darfur in 2004, it was the first time I had been to Africa. And as a photographer, Africa was always a place I'd dreamed of. And so after I had been working in Iraq almost two years, I really felt like I needed to step away. And right at that time, Somini Sengupta, who was a correspondent with The New York Times, she came to me and said, why don't we go try and get into Darfur? And it was not easy to get a visa. So we decided we would fly to Chad and then walk across the border and try to walk into northwest Darfur. And so that's what we did, and it was this sort of epic journey.

But it was the first time where I really saw one of those sort of biblical scenes of refugees and people who had nothing. And they were fleeing with only their belongings on their backs and tattered clothes, and their children were hungry. It was just this incredibly devastating scene. And that's a scene that's now, 11 years later, I've seen sadly all too many times.

But, you know, there is nothing like coming upon one of these scenes for the first time in your life because you can't even imagine how desperate people are until you're face-to-face with them. I also felt this massive weight as a photographer - how do I cover this? How do I convey in one frame the misery that I'm seeing? Because then I felt, wow, I really have a responsibility to cover the scene for these people, you know, to make sure that the reader, back at home, of The New York Times will get it. And so, you know, it was really an important moment in not only my life, but also in my career.

MONTAGNE: After many years of being out - really out there, at different points you said you never turned down an assignment in those early years. But you're married ,and you had a child, who is still quite a tiny child right now.


MONTAGNE: (Laughter). But I'm wondering if, in any way, motherhood has put a different lens on how you see the world and what you're even willing to do.

ADDARIO: Yeah, definitely. First of all, I still do go to war zones, but I don't actively go into combat. And I don't rush to the front line and into a wall of bullets like I did for many years because now I do feel like I have committed to being a mother and I have to stay alive or I have to try and stay alive. I mean, obviously there are certain things out of my control. So in that sense, I'm trying to not necessarily stay out of war, but stay on the margins more and focus more on the civilians and humanitarian issues.

I also think it is a lot more difficult for me to photograph things that I used to - I used to go in and photograph almost with a hardness or I was one step removed - possibly because I have the camera in my face or over my eye and it acts as almost like you're watching a movie. But now it's a lot harder when I see a mother with a very sick child who's struggling and I don't know if that child will survive because for me, of course, all I can think of is, what if that were Lukas? And what if I could not take care of him? So it is different. You know, no, I'm not going to just stop covering war. I think that's quite a silly question. But I do think I modify, and I think that I approach things differently.

MONTAGNE: Thank you so much for joining us.

ADDARIO: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Photojournalist Lynsey Addario. Her memoir is called "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War." This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.