Under the Gun
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario comes to Newport Beach to talk
For much of her career, photojournalist Lynsey Addario rarely turned down an assignment – no matter the risk to her life. Fighting her way into a boys club of war photographers, Addario took her camera to the war-torn areas of Afghanistan, Darfur and Libya, where, in 2011, she and two New York Times colleagues were kidnapped while covering that country’s civil war.
The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist now has 4-year-old son Lukas. Addario chronicles her career and the inevitable tension with her personal life in a new memoir, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War.” Warner Bros. scooped up the memoir for the big screen, with Steven Spielberg attached to direct and actress Jennifer Lawrence to star as Addario.
Addario, now based in London, appears in Orange County later this month as part of the Newport Beach Public Library Foundation’s Witte Lectures.
Coast: Male war photographers likely don’t get asked as much about their families and personal lives as I suspect you do. Is that fair?
Addario: I think everybody knows men don’t get asked the same questions as women, not just in war photography but in other professions. When it comes to talking about being a mother and still doing this work, I think it’s important to show it’s possible, because hopefully that would inspire other women. I’ve always hoped I’d see more women out there.
Coast: You’ve said that when you were kidnapped in Libya, one of the first thoughts that went through your head was “What am I doing here? How much do I really care about Libya?” The next thought was “Will I get my camera back?” Did you recognize that almost comical incongruity immediately? Or was it later?
Addario: In the moment, you’re not thinking logically. It’s sort of a series of thoughts popping in your head. I mean, yes, I’m out there to photograph Libya, so of course I’m going to wonder if I’ll ever see the work. That’s the reason I’m risking my life. So I wasn’t surprised that came out along with “Will I see my family again?” Maybe people will criticize me for thinking about my camera, but that is the reality.
Coast: Weren’t you also just thinking, “This is how I’m going to die”?
Addario: Of course. I had a gun at my head and I’d been punched in my face. The men who took us were very angry and really wound up. Anything can happen in those situations.
Coast: Did you know from the get-go that this was the kind of journalism you wanted to do, that it was something you’d risk your life for?
Addario: No, not at all. I liked being able to tell stories with pictures, and I liked the excuse it gave me to travel. I never set out to cover war or do anything dangerous. When I started traveling and photographing, the stories would sort of lead my curiosity. But it just so happened that many of the stories that interested me were in war zones. It wasn’t until after September 11, when we were gearing up to be in Afghanistan and Iraq, that I thought “OK, I want to be there.”
Coast: You once said, “It never feels like I’m doing enough. I’m either failing as a mother or as a journalist.” Do you think you’ll eventually come to a sense of acceptance about both or is this just a constant tension in all of our lives?
Addario: I think I’ll always feel like that. I don’t put that pressure on myself all the time, and I’m not tortured. But I always feel like wherever I am, I need to be somewhere else. I don’t think that’ll go away. I’ll always feel inadequate on all levels. To do this job, you have to have a tremendous amount of sacrifice and compromise in your personal life. And having a family takes time away from your work. But that was a decision I made. I can never compete with the photographers who have no commitments and are willing to jump on a plane at a moment’s notice. I myself was that person for many years, but I’m not anymore.
Coast: I wanted to ask you about the recent photograph of the little Syrian boy, Omran, who was rescued in Aleppo. That picture and video went viral. What was your reaction to how that unfolded?
Addario: There have been so many devastating images out of Syria. I don’t understand why that’s the one that went viral except it was so quiet. So many parents could feel like they could relate to it because it was a startled little boy and it wasn’t extremely graphic. It doesn’t matter to me why; the important thing is people pay attention. That is the picture that touched people, and I think it’s really important it did.
Addario will appear in Newport Beach at 7 p.m. October 29. For ticket infor-mation, contact the foundation at 949.717.3890 or visit :: nbplfoundation.org