A woman in complete service to what she does, who is even willing to die for her work, definitely fits the archetype of the heroine. Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist who has photographed women under the Taliban, documented misogyny in the Congo, and been on the ground in Afghanistan after 9/11. From capturing the lives of transgender prostitutes in New York to her continued work on Syrian refugees and those displaced by war, Lynsey seeks to do justice for her subjects by capturing the true essence of their humanity.
Lynsey is also a New York Times bestselling author. Her memoir, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War, is so filled with vivid details and vulnerability, including her very close call as a hostage in Libya, that Steven Spielberg will soon be directing a movie based on her life starring Jennifer Lawrence. Lynsey’s spirit and drive will inspire you to recognize the unique impulses and passions we all have inside of us.
Emotion opens me up to people in a way that opens the story to me.
— Lynsey Addario
Majo: One thing that really struck me about your story, because I work with a lot of women who are finding their path in their twenties, is how you really got in touch with your calling early on. I’d love to read something from your book if that’s alright. It’s when you saw Salgado’s exhibition, and I just love what you wrote here:
Until that exhibit, I hadn’t quite known what that was or could be. I hadn’t thought of photography as both art and a kind of journalism. I hadn’t known that my hobby could be my life. I knew I wanted to tell people’s stories through photos to do justice to humanity, to provoke the kind of empathy for the subjects that I was feeling in the moment.
I doubted I would ever be able to capture such pain and beauty in a single frame, but I was impassioned. I walked through the exhibition and cried.
At that moment, you knew, didn’t you?
Lynsey: Totally. I mean, it was sort of like, I kept knowing. I knew when I started shooting the mothers in the Plaza de Mayo, and I knew when I walked into that exhibit. I knew that was what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if I would be capable. But at the same time, it didn’t matter to me. I was sort of willing to take that risk and throw myself into it because I thought, This is where I want to be and this is how I want to express myself. And I knew that photography would also take me around the world if I could manage it.
Majo: I love the fact that you cried, because I think tears are a good indication that you’re onto something.
Lynsey: Well, I cry a lot (chuckles). It’s funny because people look at me and go, “Oh you’re so tough, you’ve been kidnapped twice, you’ve done this and that…” and they’re always surprised by the fact that I get very emotional. But I think that emotion opens me up to people in a way that opens the story to me. I think it’s very important to be emotional and to be open to what people have to offer because otherwise… I mean, I don’t want to be that person who’s too hardened or too jaded.
Maoj: Do you think that has helped you to digest some of the experiences you’ve been through?
Lynsey: I think so. I think talking about them and really feeling them… it’s important to keep that communication open. If I go through something difficult, I keep talking about it and really feel it. I don’t know what the ultimate answer is for processing trauma, but I know what works for me.
Majo: Was there any point where you felt fed up? Like, I’m done with this?
Lynsey: I mean, in Libya… that would have been the moment. Because it was a week of brutal treatment, very terrifying, a lot of psychological torture. You know, repeated execution threats… but there actually wasn’t a moment where I said, “I can’t do this anymore.” There were repeated moments where I thought, Will I survive?
There were times when I thought I needed to step back and reevaluate how I would do this work, but I never thought, I’ll never do this work again. That’s just not me. I still really believe in people. And I believe in the ability to negotiate with people and talk with them about anything, even to negotiate my own freedom.
- Growing up with parents who encouraged her to express herself, follow her dreams, and learn things for herself. [4:19]
- Receiving her first camera, becoming a self-taught photographer, and breaking into the business (which involved sneaking a shot of Madonna). [8:10]
- How Lynsey found her calling early on, and the inspiring purpose that drives her. [12:53]
- How she furthered her career by asking for an advance on the wedding she didn’t intend to have. [15:31]
- Bringing milk and cookies to transgender prostitutes: Lynsey’s method of getting to know people before photographing them. [17:20]
- Going to Afghanistan as an unmarried, American female photographer during a time when photography was outlawed by the Taliban. [22:07]
- The unique barriers (and dangers) of being a woman photojournalist. [25:43]
- The brutal week she spent as a hostage in Libya: Being groped and assaulted and constantly threatened with execution. [28:56]
- Deciding to have a child after surviving the ordeal in Libya, plus Lynsey’s thoughts on living a “dual life”. [34:19]
- “This job is not about me, it’s about the people I cover.” Lynsey shares how she’s able to continue her work despite the trauma and violence she’s seen. [38:48]
- An incredible story of kindness from a young boy displaced by war, plus what Lynsey is working on now. [42:59]
Subscribe and listen to the full episode here (you must subscribe to receive latest episode).
Lynsey Addario’s website (check out her work!)
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War (now in paperback)