The sexual pawing of New York Times photographer (and Staples graduate) Lynsey Addario in Libya earlier this year focused a lens on the role of photographers — particularly females — in war zones.
From the national airwaves to the comments section of “06880,” Americans debated the perils — and positives — of putting people in harm’s way, just to get a picture. (Or — put another way — in the service of history and humanity).
Now Times executive editor Bill Keller has weighed in.
Writing in last Sunday’s Magazine, Keller discussed in broad strokes the imperatives and moral burdens of wartime photography.
Toward the end, he addressed Addario and other female photographers’ specific situation:
(Some) critics demanded to know how we could justify sending women into places where the threat of bombs and bullets is compounded by the threat of sexual violence. On that question, I defer to some of the intrepid Times women who have distinguished themselves in a field that is mostly populated by men — war journalists like Carlotta Gall, Alissa Rubin, Sabrina Tavernise or Lynsey herself, who says that compared with the beatings her male colleagues suffered during six days in Libyan captivity, “I felt like I got off easy.” The women who do this work will tell you that the question is patronizing, that they are capable of making their own choices and that, importantly, they have access to stories that men do not.
Lynsey recalls covering sexual assault as a weapon of war in Congo and in Darfur. The victims were more comfortable entrusting their stories and showing their wounds to a woman. In Muslim societies, Lynsey points out, female reporters and photographers have access to homes, to women and girls, that would be off-limits to any man who was not part of the family.
Keller concluded with a strong endorsement of female photographers:
For a sample of what you’d be missing if Lynsey Addario worked only in safe places, visit her 2010 portfolio of women in Afghanistan, who, in despair over brutal marriages or ostracism, set themselves on fire.
Lynsey Addario — and other photographers, like fellow Timesman and Westporter Tyler Hicks — travel to the danger zones of the world. Their courageous work enhances our understanding of the world, even as it raises new questions about it.
As Lynsey’s boss notes, it is a mission they — and he — take with their eyes wide open.
And, thankfully, their cameras too.