In March 2011, photojournalist Lynsey Addario was kidnapped in Libya while covering the fighting between dictator Moammar Gadhafi's troops and rebel forces. She was with Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks and Stephen Farrell in the town of Ajdabiya, all on assignment for The New York Times.
Looking back, Addario says she had a premonition that something bad would happen.
"I just was scared that day; I can't really describe it," Addario tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "I just, I was kind of paralyzed by my own fear, and the fighting was coming closer and closer, and we all knew that — we had a feeling that the city would fall, that Ajdabiya was going to fall that day."
That day, Addario and her colleagues were driving in the same car, and they couldn't agree on how long it would be safe to stay out working.
"It was clear that we had different opinions," Addario says. "In those moments, I'm very aware of my gender, and I'm sure my colleagues were not. I'm sure the last thing they were thinking of is, 'Oh, we've got a girl in the car,' but I always was, because it's such a man's world that I work in. And so I didn't — I was ready to leave, and I didn't want to say anything."
Hicks and Shadid wanted to keep going, so they all kept working. It turned out they had stayed too long — their car was ransacked, and they were tied up and carried off by pro-Gadhafi forces, who handed them over to the Libyan government. She and her colleagues were held for about a week before they were released.
Addario writes about her experiences in Libya in her new memoir, It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War. She also gives insight into her work as a conflict photographer in other places, including Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo — and into its impact on her personal life.
"I really felt like every moment we survived Libya was a gift," she says.
On her fear of being raped while being held in Libya
I had spent years covering war, and I had spent years meeting with women who had been raped as a weapon of war, and so for me it was always in the back of my head. ...
I thought of it in the moment that I was tied up and literally being carried off alone by two men — one man who had my ankles and one man who had the top of my body. And I ... and I had no idea where they were taking me. So for me, it was, "OK, now they're carrying me off to rape me." And I didn't know what was going to happen — and so the entire time we were hostage that was a major fear for me.
On what she said to the men who sexually assaulted her
For a journalist who covers the Muslim world, we have responsibilities to be familiar with that culture and to know how to respond to that. So, for example, I know that men put their sisters and their mothers on a pedestal — Muslim men — and it's important for me to say, "Look, don't you have a sister? Don't you understand I'm like your sister? Don't touch me."
In Libya, for example, when I was being groped repeatedly and there was one moment when ... we all four [Addario, Shadid, Farrell and Hicks] were thrown into the back of a tank and we each had soldiers sort of spooning us — and Steve Farrell was having a rifle sort of shoved between his legs, and Tyler and Anthony were both getting beaten, and I was being groped over and over, and this man kept putting his hands over my mouth and touching me.
And I said to him — instead of screaming — I said to him, "I have a husband. I belong to someone else; you are not my husband. Please don't touch me." And I think it's important to tap into that and to explain, "Look, I'm familiar with Islam, I understand women should not be with two men at once — and I belong to someone else."
On how much she values her work and cameras even when her life is at risk
It kind of seems like the last thing I have. It seems like, yeah, of course — I always think my work is important or I wouldn't risk my life for it. But I also feel like in those moments, if nothing else, my work will stand, and even if I am no longer here, here's this body of work I've created. And I hope that that endures. And so that was something that was important to me.
I remember the moment in which we were taken hostage in Libya, and we were asked to lie face down on the ground, and they started putting our arms behind our backs and started tying us up. And we were each begging for our lives because they were deciding whether to execute us, and they had guns to our heads.
And I remember thinking, "What am I doing here?" Like, "How much do I really care about Libya?"
And then I thought, "Will I ever get my cameras back?" I mean, which is the most ridiculous thought, of course, when you're about to die. Who cares if I get my cameras back? But, you know, for me, that was how my brain worked.
On calling The New York Times while being held by the Libyan government
Anthony, very intelligently, took the remote control — as they were not paying attention, they were all facing us ... and he changed the TV — that was showing, like, Libyan propaganda and Gadhafi — and he put on CNN. And at that exact moment our photos were on CNN, and it said, "the Libyan government cannot ascertain the whereabouts of these four journalists." And literally we're sitting with the Libyan government!
And I started crying and I was inconsolable. And I said, you know, "Don't you have families? How can you do this to us? Just let us call our families and at least say we're alive." ...
So then, like, 12 hours later it was the middle of the night, and they woke us up and said "OK, you each get one phone call." And I literally woke up and thought, "God, I can't remember my husband's number to save my life." ... I remembered my mother's number, but I thought there's no way she's going to find her phone in her purse, and I'm going to waste my one phone call and she's not going to pick up ... and so all the men remembered their wives' numbers and they turned to me and were like, "OK, you call The New York Times."
On how her experience in Libya changed how she covers war
Well, there was never a question in my mind as to whether I would give it up. I didn't think I would stop going ... I just thought I had to figure out how to modify how I would cover war. Because I didn't want — first of all, I've now been kidnapped twice [she was first kidnapped in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004] and I think once you get to the point where you've been kidnapped three times, one almost looks irresponsible. And I didn't want to put my family through that — obviously, I now have a son.
So I, I wanted to continue doing my work, but I had to figure out how. And so what I have basically come up with is that I still go to Afghanistan and Iraq and South Sudan and many of these places that are rife with war, but I don't go directly to the front line. I try to stay back; I try and cover civilians; I try and cover refugees. So I'm trying to cover the issues and humanitarian crises but without putting myself directly in the line of fire. Obviously, with ISIS, that becomes more difficult because there is no distinct front line.
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Lynsey Addario, had been a photojournalist working in war zones for 10 years when she was kidnapped in Libya in 2011 while covering the fighting between Muammar Qaddafi's troops and rebel forces. She was with Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks and Stephen Farrell. They were all on assignment for The New York Times. It was a terrifying experience, yet, Addario says she's been lucky. In her new memoir, she writes, quote, "I have been kidnapped twice. I have gotten in one serious car accident. Two of my drivers have died while working for me, two tragedies I will always feel responsible for. I have missed the births of my sister's children, the weddings of friends, the funerals of loved ones. I have disappeared on countless boyfriends and had just as many disappear on me," unquote. She's now married and a mother. She writes about her work as a conflict photographer in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Congo and about its impact on her personal life. Her memoir is called "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War."
Lynsey Addario, welcome to FRESH AIR. Right before you were kidnapped in Libya, you were thinking it's time to get out of the area you were in. It had just become too dangerous. You were having premonitions before the road trip that you were taking. And during that trip, the trip that you got kidnapped on - you and three fellow journalists - you kept thinking you should turn back. But you didn't want to say that because the three journalists you were traveling with were men, and you didn't want to be the cowardly photographer or the terrified girl who prevented the men from doing their work. You'd certainly already proven your bravery. Can you describe what was going through your mind about being a woman and not wanting to say something?
LYNSEY ADDARIO: Sure. First of all, I had been covering the front line for at least two weeks at that point, and I was exhausted. And the fighting was incredibly intense. And there was no cover on the front lines. So basically when you went forward as a photographer or as a journalist, there was nowhere to hide, and you were bombarded all day, every day. And so a few days - either the day before or a few days before we were taken, I had a feeling something was going to happen. And I actually went to my friend Bryan Denton, who was another photographer, and I handed him a hard drive of all of my images from Libya that I had shot to date. And I said, if anything happens to me, please FedEx this to my photo agency, and if nothing else, at least my images will be salvaged. And then the next day or two days later, we were taken. And so that morning - you know, sometimes when you cover war you just wake up scared, or I do, and sometimes I feel fearless. And so on that particular morning that we were taken, Tyler and I were alone in Ajdabiya. We had stayed overnight in this house that The New York Times rented, and we were waiting for our colleagues to join us. And we had a kind of relaxing morning. And then we went out to start working. And I just was scared that day. I can't really describe it. I just - I was kind of paralyzed by my own fear and the fighting was coming closer and closer.And we all knew that - we had this feeling that the city would fall, that Ajdabiya was going to fall that day. And a lot of the journalists started pulling out. And we were in two separate cars. Tyler and I were in one car and Anthony Shadid and Steve Farrell were in another. And at some point throughout the morning, Steve and Anthony's driver just pulled over to the side of the road and dumped their stuff on the road and said, I'm leaving, my brother has been shot up at the front line. And so they ended up coming in our car. And there were four of us in one car. And it's very difficult to have four journalists in one vehicle because we all have very different ideas of how long it's safe to stay. We just have different needs, also. I mean, I as a photographer will have very different needs from Anthony who is a journalist, and he needed interviews and I needed photos and Tyler needed photos. And so, at some point, it was clear that we had different opinions. And in those moments, I'm very aware of my gender. And I'm sure my colleagues were not. I'm sure the last thing they were thinking of is, oh, we've got a girl in the car. But I always was because it's such a man's world that I work in. And so I didn't - I was ready to leave. And I didn't want to say anything. And at one point, Steve Farrell said, look, I think we should go, and I was like, yeah, I think so, too. But Anthony and Tyler still were working, and so then I was like, well, I might as well work if we're here, so we just kept kind of working. And eventually it - finally, we decided to pull back, but at that point it was too late.
GROSS: After you were kidnapped, you were thinking, please, God, I just don't want to be raped. You were groped. You were molested, but you weren't officially raped. Was your fear of rape intensified because you had done a photographic series in Africa of women who were raped as an act of war? And many of them weren't just emotionally traumatized. They were physically wounded, I mean, serious physical wounds as a result of the rape. So you had witnessed the impact of rape in wartime, rape as an act of war.
ADDARIO: Of course.
GROSS: So is that part of the reason why you were so afraid of being raped?
ADDARIO: Well, certainly I had spent years covering war and I had spent years meeting with women who had been raped as a weapon of war. And so, for me, it was always in the back of my head, but I didn't have that fear in Afghanistan. I didn't really have that fear in Iraq. But for some reason in Libya, and perhaps because it's North Africa and a lot of the women that I had interviewed who had been raped were African women, and immediately it was my first fear, especially because I thought of it in the moment that I was tied up and literally being carried off alone by two men, one man who had my ankles and one man who had the top of my body. And I had no idea where they were taking me. So for me it was, OK, now they're carrying me off to rape me. And I didn't know what was going to happen. And so the entire time we were hostage that was a major fear for me because, as you said, a lot of the women I had spoken to had been raped, but violently raped. I mean, there were objects used in their rape and there were several men who raped them. And so it was incredibly traumatic for those women.
GROSS: In your years of covering war zones, and I'm going to speak specifically here now of war zones in Islamic countries, did you never know when men would be treating you with the respect that Muslim men are supposed to show women and when they'd see you as a Western harlot who they could take physical advantage of?
ADDARIO: Sure, I actually have been very lucky. I have always been treated with great respect. And sure, in Pakistan right after September 11 when I would cover demonstrations and people were burning flags, there were inevitably people were grabbing my butt and I would be touched, but it never went beyond that. And in years of covering Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, many different countries, I never - nothing happened. And I was very lucky. I always felt myself very lucky. But for some reason, in Libya, I had that fear. But I have to say in Muslim countries I have always been offered very great respect and no one has ever disrespected me or my body.
GROSS: Well, once, when you were getting groped in Pakistan, you said to the men, haram - which means forbidden - don't you have sisters, mothers? Aren't you Pakistani men Muslim? You did say that. Was that effective?
ADDARIO: Yeah, I did. And that's what I was referring to when I first said - I think, you know, another very important thing is for a journalist who covers the Muslim world, we have responsibilities to be familiar with that culture and to know how to respond to that. So, for example, I know that men put their sisters and their mothers on a pedestal - Muslim men. And it's important for me to say, look, don't you have a sister? Don't you understand I am like your sister? Don't touch me.
And in Libya, for example, when I was being groped repeatedly, and there was one moment when I was in the back of a tank, and - we all four were thrown into the back of a tank, and we each had soldiers sort of spooning us. And Steve Farrell was having a rifle sort of shoved between his legs, and Tyler and Anthony were both getting beaten. And I was being groped over and over, and this man kept putting his hands over my mouth and touching me. And I said to him - instead of screaming, I said to him, I have a husband. I belong to someone else. You are not my husband. Please don't touch me. And I think it's important to, you know, to tap into that and to explain, like, look, I'm familiar with Islam. I understand women should not be with two men at once. And this is - I belong to someone else.
GROSS: One of your captors in Libya was gently stroking your cheek soon after you were kidnapped and was whispering something in your ear. You didn't know what he was saying. Anthony Shadid translated for you. He was saying, you're going to die tonight. Did you believe that? Did you think you were going to be killed by your captors?
ADDARIO: You know, I mean, if that - I mean, did I believe it? I believed anything. I mean, I really felt like every moment we survive Libya was a gift. They repeatedly threatened us with killing us. And they - every time we were passed over into the hands of new captors, they were incredibly violent. I myself was punched in the face several times. And to punch a woman in the face who's bound, you know, you're serious. I mean, I think it's pretty - you have to be a certain kind of man to be able to punch a woman in the face who's tied up.
GROSS: So you said before that when you thought - you know, when you had your premonitions and you thought this might be the end and you might be killed in Libya, you gave your hard drive to another journalist and said, in case I don't make it, get these photos to my editor. And it made me think about when you risk your life on a regular basis, as you have done in war zones, when you really think this may be the end, how important is your work, the work that you have actually risked your life for? You know, when you hand your hard drive over to someone and say, make sure my editor gets this, does your work still seem really important when you think that this might be the last day you're alive?
ADDARIO: Well, it kind of seems like the last thing I have. It seems like, yeah, of course my work - I always think my work is important or I wouldn't risk my life for it. But I also feel like in those moments, if nothing else, my work will stand. And even if I am no longer here, here is this body of work I've created, and I hope that that endures. And so that was something that was important to me. I remember the moment in which we were taken hostage in Libya, and we were asked to lie face down on the ground. And they started putting our arms behind our backs and started tying us up. And we were each begging for our lives because they were deciding whether to execute us, and they had guns to our heads. And I remember thinking, God, what am I doing here? Like, how much do I really care about Libya? And then I thought, will I ever get my cameras back? I mean, which is the most ridiculous thought of course when you're about to die. Who cares if I get my cameras back? But, you know, for me, that was how my brain worked.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is photojournalist Lynsey Addario. She has a new memoir, which is called "What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War."And she freelances for The New York Times, National Geographic and Time Magazine. Lynsey, let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Lynsey Addario, who is a photojournalist who has worked in many war zones, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. She and three other journalists were kidnapped in Libya. It was the second time she had been kidnapped. And that kidnapping in Libya is where we left off when we were talking. She has a new memoir, and it's called "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War."
So, you know, there's one moment that you describe during your kidnapping that I actually thought was, like, kind of funny. And so you're kidnapped with three men, three male journalists. At this point you're in a room together. And you write, the men took turns urinating in the bottle in the corner, and I longed for a funnel or a penis.
GROSS: I thought that was hysterical. And I think every woman has been through a moment where they realize, like, a woman's anatomy is so relatively inconvenient at certain times compared to a man's. And it's something I actually often wonder about. When reporting from war zones or when getting held hostage or something like that, how do you - you don't have to describe it, but, I mean, like, how do you deal with that, you know?
GROSS: Was that something that really bothered you or was that just like something you thought about for a second and - you know?
ADDARIO: Well, I mean, I was very conscious of it because I didn't want to have to go to the bathroom, because as the only woman I didn't want to be separated from the men. But it was very interesting, and I didn't write about this in the book, but in the first few moments after we were taken and we were - I talked about the moment where they tied me up and carried me away. Well, they ended up sitting me in a car on the front line. And they sat four of us, so Steve and I were put in one car and Anthony and Tyler were put in the other. And they literally parked the cars in the middle of the road that was being bombarded. It was the front line. So we were tied up and just put on the front line and watched bombs and bullets and everything rain around us. And at some point I had to go to the bathroom. And I asked one of the soldiers if I could go to the bathroom. And I was about to go off on my own and Anthony ran over to me and said, no, I'm coming with you. And it was so smart of him to realize that I should not go on my own. And I will forever be grateful to him, may he rest in peace.But I remember I ran off and he would not leave my side. And he came and he stood outside of the door. They took me to this kind of weird police station that was nearby where they were holding us at that point. And he just stood outside the door and would not leave me. And then, after that, I basically just didn't drink any fluids or eat anything. I had a few sips of a juice box or something because I didn't want to have to go to the bathroom, because honestly in those moments it's the most inconvenient thing. It's like you don't - I wasn't hungry because you kind of - you know, your body just shuts down in that very traumatic moment. But I didn't want to have to go to the bathroom. So luckily the next time I went, we had stopped at some security office and I asked to use the toilet there. And so there were a few moments - like there were a few times throughout the first few days where I was able to find a toilet, which was a miracle. But when we were sitting in that prison cell, I just thought, oh, this really sucks, you know, this is really difficult because I'm the only woman. Like, I'm not going to sit there in front of three of my colleagues, you know? So that's what happened.
GROSS: What promises did you make to yourself if you survived?
ADDARIO: Well, I thought about starting a family. That was definitely one thing that I thought of and I said out loud when we were in prison. I'm married to Paul de Bendern, who was a journalist for Reuters for 16 years. And he had always wanted a family. And I kept saying, no, no, I'm not ready, my career, I'm not ready. And I was 37 at that point. And I did say, look, if I survive this maybe I should seriously think about having a family. And I did get pregnant about a month after we were released.
GROSS: When your captors who were holding you hostage in Libya handed you over to the Libyan government, the government assured you you would no longer be mistreated and you'd no longer be hurt. And you and the other three journalists agreed that you would be the one who called The New York Times and tell them the news. Did you rehearse that call in your mind before you made it?
ADDARIO: No. That call came about in a very unexpected way. First of all, when they took us to Tripoli, we were flown on military aircraft and we were tied to the walls of the plane. We got to Tripoli. It was very, very violent, the whole transport to Tripoli, possibly the most violent part of the entire kidnapping.
GROSS: In terms of everybody getting beaten?
ADDARIO: Everyone was beaten. I could hear my colleagues whimpering and basically hitting their breaking points. I mean, everyone really hit their breaking point there on the tarmac when we arrived in Tripoli. And I was being really aggressively groped, you know, I had my clothes on but basically as if I did not. And it was very intense. And there was a fight over who would get us on the tarmac, and it was between the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That's what we surmised. And Anthony was able to translate everything he heard. And that's sort of what we deduced in the end. But we ended up, luckily, with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And they brought us to this sort of VIP prison, which was like an apartment. And right away they sat us in the main room, which was like a sitting room. And they brought out tea and very sort of Muslim hospitality, saying, we're not going to hurt to you. We're the government. We're legitimate. And we all were sort of beaten to a pulp. I mean, all of us were, at that point, just exhausted and traumatized. And Anthony very intelligently took the remote control as they were not paying attention. They were all facing us sitting across from them on the couch. And he changed the TV that was showing, like, Libyan propaganda and Qaddafi, and he put on CNN. And at that exact moment, our photos were on CNN. And it said...
GROSS: No, really?
ADDARIO: Yeah, it said the Libyan government cannot ascertain the whereabouts of these four journalists. And literally we're sitting with the Libyan government. And I started crying. And I was inconsolable. I said, you know, don't you have families? How can you do this to us? Just let us call our families and at least say we're alive, because, you know, you can keep us as long as you want, but let our families know that we're alive. And they were like, Madam, please stop crying and stop crying. I said, no, I'm not going to stop crying. This is ridiculous, you know?
So then, like 12 hours later, it was the middle of the night, and they woke us up and said, OK, you each get one phone call. And I literally woke up and thought, God, I can't remember my husband's number to save my life, you know? And they had taken everything from us. They stole everything - the shoes off our feet. I mean, of course I didn't have my telephone. And so I remembered my mother's number. But I thought there's no way she's going to find her phone in her purse, and I'm going to waste my one phone call, and she's not going to pick up. And so all the men remembered their wives' numbers, and they turned to me and they were like, OK, you call The New York Times. And I thought, oh, well, that's not - really not fair. So I ended up calling The New York Times, the foreign desk, and Susan Chira picked up, who is the foreign editor. And I said, Susan, this is Lynsey. And she started squealing and said, Lynsey. And I said, Susan, can you tell my husband I love him and my parents, and she was laughing. And she said, yes. And there was a man next to me. I mean, I was blindfolded as they were dialing. And he was sort of literally sitting so close to me I could feel him breathing on me. So that was my hint to not say anything, you know? I just said we're being treated really well, and - but he was literally right next to me the whole time I spoke to her.
GROSS: My guest is photojournalist Lynsey Addario. Her new memoir is called "It's What I Do." Coming up, we'll talk about, how do you take pictures when you're under fire - or do you? I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with photojournalist Lynsey Addario, author of the new memoir "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War." Addario has photographed conflict in war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo and Libya, where she was kidnapped in 2011 along with Anthony Shadid, Tyler Hicks and Stephen Farrell. They were all on assignment for The New York Times. Addario has been a freelance photographer through her career. Her work appears regularly in The New York Times, National Geographic and Time.
Your memoir includes a lot of photos that you've taken, many of them from war zones, and one of the photos from Libya is a photograph of one of your shoes without laces at the site where you were held hostage. How did you manage to take that photo?
ADDARIO: So I did not take that photo. Bryan Denton, the same photojournalist that I gave my hard drive to - he went back to the site where we were taken about two weeks later. And he went back in an effort to help our driver's family recover or look for him or his body. No one knew if he was really dead or - his body was never recovered. So they went back to sort of retrace our steps, and Bryan said - and I, you know, I can't speak for him, but he told me that when they went back, he was looking around - and we had all described exactly what happened to us - and they went over to the place where we had been. We had sought shelter behind this cement building. And there, he found my shoe with no laces. And he remembered that they had tied me up with my shoelace. And he said it was so eerie to find my little Nikes on the side of the road because I had been shooting alongside Bryan the whole, you know - for the two weeks that we were covering the front line. And he recognized my shoes immediately.
GROSS: What does it mean to you to look at that photograph? Can you look at it without getting a lot of flashbacks and terrible memories?
ADDARIO: That was a very difficult photograph to see. And I remember I was at my father's house in Connecticut when that photo came through, and Bryan was back in Libya. And I had come to the U.S., along with my colleagues, to sort of decompress. And there was a long email. And at the end of the e-mail, there were a series of photos attached, and I started downloading them. And I looked at my shoe, and it made me sick. And I just thought it was evidence, you know because I think sometimes when I go through something traumatic, I say to myself, was it really that bad? Maybe I was just hallucinating, or maybe it wasn't as bad as it seems in my head, or - you know, it's hard. Unless you have physical scars, it's very difficult to understand how bad psychological trauma is and what exactly happened. And so I didn't really have any evidence, and all of a sudden, there was my shoe. And I thought, it's evidence - finally, something, like, some sort of sign of what we went through.
GROSS: And do you ever take that out and look at it? I mean, it's in your book, but do you ever take it out and look at it as a reminder?
ADDARIO: No, I don't. I don't. And right now, I'll be on book tour, and I'm going to show it as part of the book tour and talk about that.
GROSS: So of the reporters you were kidnapped in Libya with, Steve Farrell gave up reporting from war zones. Photojournalist Tyler Hicks went back to his work and has since done some, you know, extraordinary work, including his pictures inside the mall in Nairobi, Kenya when it was taken over by terrorists. Anthony Shadid, afterwards, snuck into Syria to report on the civil war, and he died of an extreme asthma attack while trying to leave Syria. How did you decide what you wanted to do, whether to return to war zones or give that up?
ADDARIO: Well, there was never a question in my mind as to whether I would give it up. I didn't think I would stop going. I just figured out - I just thought I had to figure out how to modify, how I would cover war because I didn't want - first of all, I've now been kidnapped twice, and I think once you get to the point where you've been kidnapped three times, you know, one almost looks irresponsible. And I didn't want to put my family through that. Obviously, I now have a son. So I wanted to continue doing my work, but I had to figure out how.
And so what I have basically come up with is that I still go to Afghanistan and Iraq and South Sudan and many of these places that are rife with war, but I don't go directly to the front line. I try to stay back. I try and cover civilians. I try and cover refugees. So I'm trying to cover the issues and humanitarian crises but without putting myself directly in the line of fire. Obviously with ISIS, that becomes more difficult because there is no distinct front line. I mean, people can get kidnapped from cities, or it can happen in Paris. So it becomes much more difficult to navigate that, but I think that's across the board for every journalist.
GROSS: In your memoir, you write, some of us - and by us, you mean reporters, photojournalists who work in war zones - some of us are adrenaline junkies, some escapists, some wreck our personal lives and hurt those who love us most. Do you fit in any of those categories?
ADDARIO: Well, I think at different points in my life, I possibly did. I think I certainly had no personal life. I tried, but I was a disaster at having a personal life for most of - until I was about 35. I would try to have relationships, but I wouldn't fully commit myself to anything other than work. Escapist - I don't know. I think I was more - I was so driven to tell the story that I just kept going back. And that was my reality - going to Iraq or being in Afghanistan with the troops or being embedded for two months at a time. I just - that was where I felt most comfortable.
GROSS: Did you ever feel like you were an adrenaline junkie and that you were getting addicted to the adrenaline rush of reporting from war zones?
ADDARIO: I'm not a fan of that phrase - adrenaline junkie. I just think that there are so many ways in life...
GROSS: I'm quoting you.
ADDARIO: Yeah, yeah, I know. I know.
ADDARIO: I think there are so many other ways to get adrenaline going. And for me personally, I - it's never been one of my drives. I do know journalists who basically jump from war zone to war zone, and if I ask them why they were covering that war, I'm not sure they would have an answer. And I think it's very important for me, personally, if I'm going to cover a story, I want to know why am I going? What can I bring to that story? What is my reason? And I think, you know, with Iraq and Afghanistan, my personal reason was that, well, it's America at war. And we are using American tax dollars. And there are American troops losing their lives and limbs, and I want the American public to see what's happening on the front lines. So I always try to keep those reasons clear, and if I lose sight of them, I think, well, maybe I am turning into an adrenaline junkie. So I try and always be in touch with that.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is photojournalist Lynsey Addario, and her new memoir, "It's What I Do," is about her life as a journalist. She's been a photojournalist in many war zones. Let's take a short break here, then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
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GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Lynsey Addario. She's a photojournalist who's done some extraordinary work. She shared a Pulitzer Prize. She got one of those MacArthur genius grants. Now she has a new memoir called "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War." And she freelances for The New York Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic.
You quote the great photojournalist Robert Capa as having once said, if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough. Of course, in war, the closer you get the greater the risk you're taking. Can you give us an example of a time you took a great risk to get really close, to get the great photograph, and you felt like it paid off? Like, you got a really great photograph as a result of getting close and taking that risk.
ADDARIO: Well, so I think that quote - there are two ways to read into that. And I always read into it more in - not only physically close, but emotionally close. And I think as a photographer it's very important to get emotionally close to your subjects and to really just break down those walls that exist between a photographer and anyone because the minute you introduce a camera into any scene, people become aware of that. And they become uncomfortable or a bit rigid. And so it's only with time and with feeling comfortable with someone that that goes away.
And so a lot of the stories, like - I would say in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, correspondent Elizabeth Rubin and I spent up to two months living with the troops - 173rd airborne battle company - on the side of the mountain. And it was the Korengal outpost. And we went on patrols with them every day. We hung out with them in the downtime. We really got to know them. And at the end of that embed we went on a battalion-wide mission operation called Operation Rock Avalanche. And at the end of that operation we were ambushed by the Taliban from three sides as we were setting up on the Abiscar Ridgeline. And three soldiers were shot. And Sergeant Rougle was killed. And it is an extremely sensitive moment for soldiers to have a photographer around when one of their comrades has been killed.
And I remember photographing Sergeant Rice and Vanderburgh, who were the two wounded, walking to the medevac. And I was photographing them and asking their permission, naturally, and they said yes. And when I went back to photograph the body - Rougle's body - I asked the soldiers who were carrying his body - it was Clinard and Liski - and I asked their permission. And everyone was crying and I was crying and they were crying. And they said yes. And I think that was one of those moments where I was close enough because I had put the time in and I cared. And they felt comfortable with me being there. And I'm not sure that would've happened had I just sort of showed up a few days before.
GROSS: So when you're shooting in a situation like that - you've been ambushed from three sides by the Taliban, soldiers that you're with are getting shot, wounded, killed, and you're taking their pictures. The things that most photographers want to control - the lighting, the framing, the angle. That's all, I imagine, very different when you've been under fire, when you're photographing people who are, you know, perhaps mortally wounded. What goes into how you take a photo in a situation like that?
ADDARIO: Sure. I remember the first few times I was in a gunbattle, and I actually forgot to photograph (laughter). I was so terrified. I completely - all I could think about was how am I going to dig myself into the ground enough that the bullet - that I'm not going to get shot? You know, and I absolutely forgot about photographing. And that was in Iraq. And, you know, with every time I was in a gunbattle I had to say to myself, OK, now start shooting. And I really had to remind myself. And finally in the Korengal Valley I had been doing it for years, but I still was terrified.
And in fact, in the moment that ambush started, I had just climbed up - I had left my cameras on the side of the ridgeline and my helmet. And I had climbed up - we were on sort of a vertical - almost, like, a 70 degree angle side of the mountain. And I had to go to the bathroom. And so I climbed up on my hands and knees, basically climbed up the mountain, to look for a tree stump to pee behind. And I got up there and I jumped over the tree stump. And the bullets started flying. And I was alone. And I didn't have my cameras and I didn't have my helmet. And bullets are coming from every angle. And so I thought what am I going to do now?
And so I lied down behind this tree stump. And I'm digging myself into it, you know, saying - and then I thought what if the Taliban comes from behind me and finds me first, you know? What if I'm the one they find? And so then I'm screaming out Lieutenant Piosa, who was the one that - he was our sort of point of contact for the journalists. And eventually - and everyone was fully, fully engaged. I mean, it was a full on gunbattle. And so eventually I rolled down the mountain. I just lied down flat and just rolled all the way down the mountain. And I stood up and I saw Stichter and he said get behind a tree. And I said I need my cameras, I need my cameras. And he just looked at me like you are insane.
ADDARIO: And so I ran. And I ran - and there are bullets everywhere. And I ran and I found my helmet. I picked up my cameras and I ran and found Elizabeth. And I jumped behind her. And it was funny because there were, like, six people hiding behind this teeny, weeny little tree that was not more than, like, I don't know, four inches wide that offered almost zero protection. But it must've been psychological cover. And so everyone was ducked behind this tree. And I remember I looked to my right in that moment and Tim Hetherington, who was killed in Libya - Tim Hetherington was standing up with a video camera, just filming as if he were on a walk in the park on a Sunday. And he was completely not scared.
And I just thought what am I doing here? I'm the worst photographer on the planet. I still hadn't taken any pictures. And so finally at that point I thought OK, I got to start now. And in that moment we got a call saying that there were men down. They said man down, man down, men down. There were three men down. And so we ran forward with Piosa and the medics. And at that point I started shooting. But, you know, it's never - I don't think I'm a very good war photographer at all. I think I'm horrible because I always forget to photograph and I'm always trying to make sure I stay alive before I do anything else.
GROSS: (Laughter) I'm certainly not going to criticize you for trying to stay alive while there 's bullets coming at you from every direction.
ADDARIO: I know, but I look at some of my colleagues and they're so brave. I remember Joao Silva. I mean, he was, like, the - you know, he used to just walk through bullets, you know? There were friends of mine - Jim Nachtwey - I mean, some of these guys are just completely fearless. And I am not that person.
GROSS: Well - but just let me add that, you know, Joao's legs were blown off by an IED, and...
ADDARIO: Yes, in Afghanistan.
GROSS: And Jim Nachtwey was shot in the shoulder maybe.
ADDARIO: He was shot recently. I don't remember where it was, but he's OK.
GROSS: I mean, the dangers are real. It's not like it's just in your head.
ADDARIO: No, of course the dangers are real. I mean, there are...
GROSS: So when you pick your head up and you do start shooting, right?
GROSS: Well, how much thought do you give to, well, how am I going to frame the photo? And is the lighting good? What's my angle like?
ADDARIO: No, I mean, all of that stuff, I think - sure, I'm thinking about composition and I'm also thinking about what is the information I need to get in that photo? So it's more of a technical thing, like I need to show that there are troops, that there are bullets and guns. And, you know, I mean, basic things that I need to have in the photo. But I'm not worried about light because unless I'm shooting directly against the sun - I mean, those things are things that you can worry about when you have the luxury of time. For example, when I'm working for National Geographic and I can go out at 4:30 in the morning and wait for the first sunlight or in the late afternoon. But when I'm covering war it's more about just being there for the moment.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is photojournalist Lynsey Addario. And her new memoir "It's What I Do" is about her life as a journalist. And she's been a photojournalist in many war zones. Let's take a short break here then we'll talk some more. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, my guest is photojournalist Lynsey Addario. Her new memoir is called "It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life Of Love And War," and she's taken pictures in war zones, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. She was kidnapped in Libya, and she freelances for The New York Times, National Geographic and Time magazine.
So, you know, your book is subtitled "A Photographer's Life Of Love And War." I want to talk about the love part a little bit...
ADDARIO: (Laughter) I was hoping you would not.
GROSS: ...And how love and war coincide. Well, just a little bit here. Like, there was a period when you had a boyfriend in Mexico, and you'd always be leaving him to go to another war and, you know, another conflict and do pictures. And on one of your trips back to Mexico to be with him, you discovered he was cheating on you. And you threw him out of the house on which you paid the rent, and then when he apologized, you ended up getting back together, in part because you hated the thought of returning home from a war zone to an empty home. And I'd like you to just talk about that a minute, to, like - even knowing that the relationship probably wasn't going to last and that he was probably a problem and that he was cheating - that need to return to someone, to have a home with someone in it. Did you need that to sustain you when you were in war zones?
ADDARIO: I don't think I needed...
GROSS: ...Even if it was partly a delusion. Do you know what I mean? The sense of, like, yeah...
ADDARIO: Sure, of course. I don't think I needed it to sustain me. I think it was what I wanted at that time. And I was very cognizant of the fact that the relationship was not the healthiest relationship and that I - each one of us were not giving, fully, to the relationship. But when - I was spending months on end in Iraq, and I didn't want to come home to an empty house. I loved him. I enjoyed his company. We were familiar with each other. We had been together for several years at that point.
Yes, I knew he was cheating on me, but it - I accepted it. And for me, it was, you know - so long as I was aware of what I was getting myself into, I said, look, this is where I'm at at this point in my life. Was I proud of it? No, of course I wasn't, but I think we all make decisions at different points in our lives to be with a certain person that is not always the right person and is not always the ideal person. But it works at that point in our lives, and that's where I was at.
GROSS: Just one more thing about the love part of your "Photographer's Life Of Love And War."
GROSS: There was a period where you became a couple with a reporter who you were working with. And you each were in relationships with people who were back home, but you felt that, probably, they didn't understand what your lives were really like and that because of that, you had something really special with this journalist who you were reporting with. You were even kidnapped together. And I'm wondering if that sense of being together in great danger, including being kidnapped together, whether that added to the drama of the relationship, or, you know, if there were times when that made it more difficult.
ADDARIO: Yeah, I think definitely. Relationships happen in war zones all the time. And it's incredibly intense, and everything is amplified. And the passion and the love and the interest is just - everything is heightened. And I'm not sure if that's really love or a relationship, that what happens and blossoms in a place like Iraq, but it is a familiarity. And you're spending day in and day out with the same people, and you get to know them. And it is a unique experience that is very hard to convey to people outside of Iraq or wherever you happen to be. And so you form a bond and a very unique bond. And so I think the real issue is trying to figure out if it's real and if it's something that would endure in "real life," in quotations, or life outside of that war zone, or if it's just - works because that's where you are. So that's a very hard thing to understand and a hard thing to recognize.
GROSS: So now that you're married and you have a son, I'm sure your calculation is very different about what kind of risk you're willing to take. You've talked about that a little bit. What's it like for you to go back and forth now? Between being in other countries, in dangerous places - not as dangerous as you'd let yourself be in before you were a mother, but still, you know, risky enough - and then you come home and, you know - I'm sure you have, like, a lovely apartment in London and that you're probably, you know, pretty protective of your son - it's - they're two such separate worlds.
ADDARIO: Yeah, I think this profession is always a matter of straddling two separate worlds. And whether it was the same before I had my son, it was always a matter of kind of parachuting into one place, in a devastating Third World country or some place where there was war everywhere, and then going home to a really nice house and having everything at my disposal. And it never seemed fair to me. And it still doesn't seem fair. It doesn't seem right that some people are born into lives of privilege and some people are born into misery. So for me, it's always been about sort of juggling those two worlds.
Now that I have Lukas, of course I'm incredibly protective of him, and I think more so because I've seen so many children die. And I've seen what can happen, and I am ridiculously protective of him. But I try really hard to be present when I'm home and be with him. And when I'm on the road, I try to be very focused on my work and try and work as fast as I can on long days and get home quickly.
GROSS: Well, Lynsey Addario, thank you for this interview. Thank you for your work, and thank you for the risks that you've taken to do it. I really appreciate it.
ADDARIO: Thank you so much for having me.
GROSS: Lynsey Addario is the author of the new memoir "It's What I Do." On our website, we have a slideshow of some of her photos and an excerpt of her book - that's freshair.npr.org.
Tomorrow on our show, we have another Oscar nominee, the director and co-writer of the film "Ida" which is nominated for best foreign-language film. Set in Poland in the early '60s, it's about a young woman who was raised in a convent, and as she's preparing to take her vows as a nun, she learns her parents were Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. I hope you'll join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.