Lynsey Addario Talks To The Times

Nine days after being freed from captivity in Libya, Lynsey Addario spoke about the experience she shared with fellow Westporter photographer Tyler Hicks, and 2 fellow New York Times reporters.

She addressed an issue that also arose in “06880” stories about her ordeal:

I was reading the feedback to the account that Anthony, Tyler, Steve and I wrote.  (“Four Times Journalists Held Captive in Libya Faced Days of Brutality.”)  Some comments said:  “How dare a woman go to a war zone?” and “How could The New York Times LET a woman go to the war zone?”

To me, that’s grossly offensive.  This is my life, and I make my own decisions.

If a woman wants to be a war photographer, she should.  It’s important. Women offer a different perspective.  We have access to women on a different level than men have, just as male photographers have a different relationship with the men they’re covering.

In the Muslim world, most of my male colleagues can’t enter private homes.  They can’t hang out with very conservative Muslim families.  I have always been able to.  It’s not easy to get the right to photograph in a house, but at least I have one foot in the door.  I’ve always found it a great advantage, being a woman.

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Rebels with the body of a fighter at the morgue in Brega.  (Photo:  Lynsey Addario/New York Times)

That said, I generally have a man accompany me everywhere.  When I’m on assignment, I hire either a local translator or a driver who speaks English.  And I make sure they’re always with me.  I do find that a woman who is alone is more prone to being mistreated than a woman who is with a man.

People think photography is about photographing.  To me, it’s about relationships.  And it’s about doing your homework and making people comfortable enough where they open their lives to you.  People underestimate me because I’m always laughing and joking.  That helps.  They let their guard down.

I try to do women’s stories when I can, but I don’t want to be pigeonholed as just a women’s photographer, because my interest is in covering the whole story — and human rights abuses and humanitarian issues.  Ironically, I don’t think I saw more than a handful of women the entire time I was in Libya.

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Relatives of Emad al Giryani at his funeral in Ras Lanuf.  (Photo:  Lynsey Addario/The New York Times)

After the attack on Lara Logan in Egypt, a lot of people started asking, “Why are women covering the Muslim world?”  Several people wondered why Western women covered countries where women are mistreated so badly.

To me, that’s not the case.  I have always been offered the utmost hospitality and protection and shelter in the Muslim world.  I have been fed.  I have been offered a place to sleep.  My translators and drivers have put their lives before mine.  It’s very important for people to recognize that these qualities do exist.

Yes, what happened to Lara was horrible, by all accounts.  There’s no question.  And when I was in Libya, I was groped by a dozen men.  But why is that more horrible than what happened to Tyler or Steve or Anthony — being smashed on the back of the head with a rifle butt?  Why isn’t anyone saying men shouldn’t cover war?  Women and men should do what they believe they need to do.

I don’t think it’s more dangerous for a woman to do conflict photography.  Both men and women face the same dangers.

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Bodies of rebels killed around Ajdabiya.  (Photo:  Lynsey  Addario/New York Times)

Lynsey discussed the physical and logistical demands of her work:

I have to make sure I’m always in shape.  I run every day.  I’m always at the gym.  Because if you do a lot of military embeds, people are not going to wait for you. I’m 5-feet-1.  There are times in Afghanistan when, if I have to jump a canal that’s 3 feet wide, I’m going to have a problem.  And I’m not as strong as my male colleagues.  But in most of the assignments I do, I don’t find it makes a difference.

Libya was a hard conflict to cover, finding that boundary when it was not safe anymore.  There was one road that led to the front line.  That road was being shelled.  There was tank fire.  There was artillery.  There were airstrikes.  And there were helicopters coming in.  So as soon as you got close enough to cover the conflict, you were also close enough to get fired upon.  It was hard to navigate.

You learn the fighting patterns.  You try and use that experience to judge how to move forward.  But every conflict is different and every conflict has different boundaries.  In Libya, it just so happened, the landscape didn’t provide any cover.  That was a basic fact about trying to cover the conflict: it was flat, open desert.

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Rebel soldiers wept at the hospital in Ras Lanuf.  (Photo:  Lynsey Addario/New York  Times)

It was so dangerous, we traveled in full cars.  It was hard to find a driver.  If one person found a driver we’d all pile into that car.  We generally were in two cars, with seven or eight photographers.

And the personal demands:

In the last few years, people have treated me more as part of the gang.  But I think that it is a chauvinistic profession.  In every conflict I’ve covered, there’s always been sort of a boys’ club.  And there aren’t that many women covering conflict right now.  I mean, it’s amazing in this day and age.  There are probably a dozen female photographers — at most — whom I see actively in the field, covering conflict.

There are many reasons.  It takes a great toll on your personal life.  It’s lonely.  It’s physically demanding.  You have to carry a lot of equipment.  It’s emotionally taxing.  You see and document things that take a lot to process, both mentally and physically.  Most women, at some point, decide they want to put their personal lives first.

Most of my life, I had no personal life.  I tried having relationships.  But they were never successful because I was never home.  That’s my fault.  That was my decision.  I would leave for an assignment and come back 4 months later.  You can’t ask someone to be in a relationship with you if you’re not home.  I think it’s a very good reason that a lot of women decide that they don’t want to do this.

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Lynsey Addario hugged Michele McNally, the director of photography.  (Photo:  James Estrin/New York Times)

Her experience in Libya has not deterred her:

I will cover another war.  I’m sure I will.  It’s what I do.  It’s important to show people what’s happening.  We have a unique access to what unfolds on the ground that helps our policymakers decide how to treat certain issues.

The hardest part about what happened to us in Libya, our having been detained, is what we put our loved ones through — more than what happened to us.  The whole time we were detained, I think our main concern was that our families didn’t know we were alive.  And we knew we would be hurting them.  At times, it’s a very selfish profession.  And it’s hard to put people through what we put them through.

14 responses to “Lynsey Addario Talks To The Times

  1. Welcome home Lynsey, welcome home!

    A large group of us are ready to give you a community sized hug.

  2. Betty Lou Cummings

    Lynsey…you are amazing…I followed the events of your capture & release with your friend Kate (my daughter in law)…you were in our thoughts and prayers all the time…and SO happy you are back in Westport & Fairfield for awhile. Welcome home to the USA & thank you for keeping us in the know about the distant lands…Keep Safe & Hugs, Betty Lou Cummings

  3. The Dude Abides

    God bless her, she is a tigress. I hope the Times isn’t paying her 70 cents on the dollar like most women. Stay safe.

    • annonymousII

      The NYT is a commercial enterprise. Would you not expect them to try and maximize profits? Photographers and reporters are merely part of that profit maximizing effort, and in this case the story is helping to sell newspapers. “All the news that’s fit to print.” Yeah right, as long as it helps sell ad space.

      • The Dude Abides

        I was referring to the sexist approach of paying women, on average, 70% of what a man makes to do the same job. Easy, An II.

  4. You are a hero!!!

    • Heroes are our soldiers. They can’t go home. Make the distinction.

      • No, it is the photographers that bring us into the conflict so that we can support our soldiers being there. Remember when George Bush wouldn’t allow the coffins of any fallen soldiers to be photographed coming home? The result was that the American public wasn’t seeing the COST of war! It was all whitewashed. When I see Lynsey’s photographs, I bless every soldier risking his or her life over there.

        • FDR would not allow pictures of dead American soldiers until 1944. Was that a bad policy on his part? Photographers cannot ask the essential questions. They can portray partial truths and only as they see them. They cannot ask why are we putting Americans in harm’s way in a conflict the outcome of which does not affect out national interest according to the current regime in Washington. Why is there so little objection to this military misadventure? Pictures don’t seem to make much of a difference in the national debate.

        • The Dude Abides

          You may bless them but what are you doing to stop them from dying???? It is the hype of the war that makes it perpetual. How many died this week? Is that on the front pages or on CNN??? I am not discrediting what these photographers do but they are not even in same league as our combat soldiers. A soldier can not leave when it is convenient. That affects you mentally. It wears on your soul and I can tell you, you never forget it either.

        • You need some photographer going into harm’s way to see the cost of war? Try talking to a veteran. Why don’t you support the troops with some of your time?

  5. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “A man should share the action and the passion of the times at the peril of being judged not to have lived.” I’d just say, in any kind of work you have to go into the danger zones if you are going to find truth. Only where there is risk can you discover, learn and understand. Taking chances is what life should be all about.Welcome home, Lynsey. Now back to work for all of us. –Karl Decker

  6. Noel Alexandra Canfield

    Rock on, Lynsey. No words can describe how grateful I am that you are safe, nor the admiration I have for you and your colleagues.

  7. Pingback: Bill Keller Focuses On Lynsey Addario | 06880