Search

Meet the Photographer Who Found How to Balance a Life of Love and War

“I would never think of myself as a role model,” says Lynsey Addario. The 41-year-old, twice-kidnapped, mother-of-one, award-winning photojournalist has released, this month, her first book: an autobiography of her life as a Connecticut-born photographer who has spent the last 15 years witnessing the true human cost of war, particularly for women across the world.

And yet, even if Addario declines to be defined as a role model, with It’s What I Do, she hopes that her own experience, fraught with doubts about her intertwined professional and personal lives, will encourage other women to define their own paths. “[This book is the continuation of my work] as a messenger of experiences,” she tells TIME. “In this case, they are my own experiences.”

Addario didn’t set out to write an autobiography. Her goal, at first, was to produce a monograph of her work. “I’ve always wanted to do a photo book but I’ve never done one because I’ve never felt ready, I just didn’t feel my work was good enough,” she says. “I’ve seen so many photographers rush to do books the minute they start shooting but one great thing about photography is that the images don’t go away, so the more I sit with these images, the more I learn which ones have had the most impact.”

In a career that spanned two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and saw Addario travel to Cuba, India, Pakistan, Israel and Libya, the photographer has had many close calls. She was briefly abducted in Iraq in 2004, and was injured in a car accident in Pakistan in 2009. But, it’s her second abduction, in Libya in 2011 that has come to define, for better or worse, her career as a woman photographer – bringing with it worldwide attention to Addario’s work and the impetus for her memoir.

When Addario was released after five days in captivity, she took a step back from the frontlines, she says, and started contemplating the idea of producing her first monograph. “I was having conversations with Aperture about trying to do a photo book [until] I found out [the photojournalists] Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros had been killed in Libya. It threw me for a loop,” she says. “I had survivor’s guilt. It sort of brought back the trauma of my own experience in Libya in a way that was even exacerbated. I didn’t shun photography, but I felt I needed to tap in into something different.”

The thought of writing a book was, at first, daunting “but it wasn’t as daunting as doing a photo book,” she says. “With photography, I always think that it’s not good enough,” while writing simply involved getting the facts down on paper. “I kept journals for many years,” Addario tells TIME. “I also relied pretty heavily on email correspondence between my family, my friends and myself. So it was more of a matter of pulling all of it together.”

Rich Nation, Poor People: Saudi Arabia by Lynsey Addario

Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
VIEW GALLERY | 16 PHOTOS
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Despite the extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much a part of life in Riyadh as wealth.Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, Fatima and her family rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children play on old furniture outside of the home where they live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
One of twelve children living in a house where Yayeh Mussawa rents with his family plays in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis beg in a line on a street known to locals as 'the beggers' street,' in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi children do dishes and live in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Selma Saleh, a poor Saudi woman, sits on her bed in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Matara stands with her two boys next to a sink without water, where she lives in squalor in a neighborhood in South Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,  March 1, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, this family relies on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A young man begs on the streets in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi citizens rest after presenting Saudi Billionaire HRH Prince al Waleed bin Talal with petitions for his help at a desert camp outside of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Billionaire HRH Prince Waleed bin Talal, greets Saudi citizens at a desert camp outside of Riyadh to accept their petitions for his help, in Saudi Arabia, February 27, 2013.   Like many families across Saudi Arabia who are barely scraping above the poverty line each month, many poor Saudis rely on the hope of the charity of others to survive. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Young Saudi women pray in a friend's home before going out to dinner in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 25, 2013.  Though statistics are difficult to confirm, youth unemployment and poverty are on the rise in Saudi Arabia.  While society is increasingly open to women in the workforce, there are still limited jobs in which women and men can work side by side.  There are a great number of highly educated Saudis who can not find work suitable for their qualifications.  (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
A Saudi woman bids on an Arabian Horse at an auction outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudi men pray at dusk at a camel market outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Saudis stand around after an auction for Arabian Horses at a club outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 3, 2013.   Despite an extremely wealthy sector of society in Saudi Arabia, and the the veneer of widespread affluence projected outside the Kingdom, severe poverty is as much an aspect of life in Riyadh as wealth. (Credit: Lynsey Addario/ VII)
Fatima Hazazi stands in front of boxes of medicine she requires monthly to treat her kidney problem at home in Riyadh, S
... VIEW MORE

Lynsey Addario—Getty Images Reportage for TIME
1 of 16

The result is a series of vignettes and moments that “really struck in my mind,” she says. From her first trips in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where she had to play a game of cat-and-mouse with a clerk at an Islamabad embassy in order to get a visa, to her delicate relationships with men over the years, It’s What I Do, is about the difficult, and often unattainable, balance that most photographers struggle with in their professional and personal lives.

But, it’s also a book about a photographer’s commitment to her subjects, especially women, who, as Addario says, are victims of their birthplace.

“As a photographer and as a journalist, I am privy to people’s most intimate moments and it’s always been surprising by how much people open up to me,” she says. “All of these moments – women giving birth, women talking about rape – are incredibly personal and incredibly private.”

Being afforded this kind of access, Addario feels she has a responsibility to show the world what she’s seen. “I feel a huge pressure to be successful in communicating their trauma. I have to make sure that I take this information and disseminate it in a way that’s useful to them in the long term; that will prevent other women from going through what they went through. I can’t imagine not dedicating my life to trying to stop those things from happening.”

But Addario also feels guilt, she says. “Why was I so lucky to be born in Connecticut and to be offered this privileged life when so many people around the world are born into lives of extreme labor and hardship. I constantly struggle with this. Why are some people luckier than others?”

Luck almost ran out for the photographer when she was abducted, alongside her colleagues Anthony Shadid, Stephen Farrell and Tyler Hicks in Libya on March 16, 2011. But, the experience, recounted in great details in It’s What I Do, only reinforced Addario’s commitment. “It actually gave me strength to realize that I’m not a victim,” she tells TIME. “I am a woman who makes these decisions to go to war zones. I know what the risks are. I know it’s possible that I could to get kidnapped. I know it’s possible that I could get assaulted. Those are the risks I take in order to tell these stories.”

A Roadside Birth in the Philippines: Lynsey Addario’s Remarkable Photos

Jan. 11, 2014: Midwife Norina Malate delivers the baby of Analyn Pesado, 18, as Analyn's partner, Ryan Bacate, 21, looks on at the side of the road en route to the nearest clinic in Tolosa, outside of Tacloban, in the Philippines.
VIEW GALLERY | 19 PHOTOS
Jan. 11, 2014: Midwife Norina Malate delivers the baby of Analyn Pesado, 18, as Analyn's partner, Ryan Bacate, 21, looks on at the side of the road en route to the nearest clinic in Tolosa, outside of Tacloban, in the Philippines.Lynsey Addario
Jan. 11, 2014: Midwife Norina Malate delivers the baby of Analyn Pesado, 18, as Analyn's partner, Ryan Bacate, 21, looks on at the side of the road en route to the nearest clinic in Tolosa, outside of Tacloban, in the Philippines.
Jan. 11, 2014: Analyn Pesado, 18, gives birth on the side of the road en route to the nearest clinic in Tolosa, outside of Tacloban.
Maternal Health;Typhoon Hayien; save the children
Jan.11, 2014: After the baby is born, Bacate and passersby help carry Analyn Pesado and the baby to a pickup truck on the road outside of Tacloban.
Jan.11, 2014: Analyn Pesado and the baby arrive at the clinic in Tolosa.
Jan. 11, 2014: Analyn Pesado's baby is monitored at the clinic in Tolosa.
Jan.11, 2014: Analyn Pesado and Ryan Bacate watch over their new born son at the clinic in Tolosa, in the Philippines.
Jan.11, 2014: Analyn Pesado and her new born baby boy at the clinic in Tolosa.
Jan. 12, 2014: Analyn Pesado returns home with her new baby, in Telegrafo, Philippines.
Jan.12, 2014: Ryan jr. the baby of Analyn Pesado, is surrounded by cousins and family on his first day home in Telegrafo, a small town outside of Tacloban.
Jan.12, 2014: Ryan jr. the baby of Analyn Pesado ,on his first day home in Telegrafo.
Jan.12, 2014: Analyn Pesado and Ryan Bacate at home with their new born baby Ryan Jr., in Telegrafo, a small town outside of Tacloban, in the Philippines.
Jan 13, 2014: Damaged houses in Palo outside of Tacoloban. Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013, and killed some six thousand people, and affected some 14.1 million others, destroying their homes, livelihoods, and displacing families. There is an estimated 230,000 pregnant women in the affected area, with much of the medical infrastructure destroyed
Jan. 13, 2014: The cleaning up of the debris and destruction near Palo, outside of Tacloban, more than two months after Typhoon Haiyan.
Jan.13, 2014: Displaced Philippine mother and child living inside the former gym in the stadium in Tacloban.
Jan. 15, 2014: Children and parents wait for Save the Children staff who are conducting nutritional assessments and distributing plumpy nut and biscuits for children under five in Palo, outside of Tacloban, in the Philippines.
Jan. 12, 2014: Families at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at a government hospital in Tacloban. Overcrowding is due to mothers with a higher number of complications in pregnancy and lack of prenatal care.
Jan. 10, 2014: The damaged Rural Health Unit in Tolosa, where women used to give birth before Typhoon Haiyan. Mothers no longer have access to prenatal check-ups because many of the smaller clinics have been destroyed, hygiene has been compromised, and many mothers are prone to infection, thus compromising the health of their babies.
Jan. 13, 2014: Residents displaced by Typhoon Haiyan live in tents outside the stadium in Tacloban, in the Philippines.
Jan. 11, 2014: Midwife Norina Malate delivers the baby of Analyn Pesado, 18, as Analyn's partner, Ryan Bacate, 21, looks
... VIEW MORE

Lynsey Addario
1 of 19

She continues: “When I was in Libya, there are distinct moments and images that are seared in my brain that I’ll never forget: being tied up, blindfolded and groped, begging for my life, and begging for someone not to rape me. In these moments, I’ve thought so much about all the women I photographed over the years and how unbelievably strong they were. That was such a source of strength because I thought that if they could get through it when they’ve gone through so much worse, [I could get through it too].”

After her kidnapping, Addario developed a more comprehensive understanding of the people she had been covering all these years. Similarly, she says, becoming a mother was also a defining moment in her life as a photographer. “When I became a mother, I realized so much more about the mothers I’ve photographed and that love that is inexplicable for someone that doesn’t have a child.”

But Addario was ambivalent about becoming a mother, she tells TIME. “I just thought that my life was going to end and I would never be able to photograph again. I couldn’t figure it out because I didn’t have any role models, I didn’t know a single woman conflict photographer who had children.”

This lack of female role models, which has constantly plagued the male-dominated world of photojournalism, is best exemplified in the comments Addario has received over the years from readers. “Everyone is having a field day judging what a horrible woman I am, what a bad mother I am,” she says. “I find it fascinating that anyone feel like they have the right to tell me how to live my life.”

“All of these people,” she adds, “seem to forget that the places I’m photographing are rife with women and mothers. Why are they not up in arms about those women and how they have to live? I think it’s very easy to judge.”

Before writing this book, Addario knew she’d become, once again, the target of such commentary. “I knew every single person would come out of the woods and feel they have a right to judge a pregnant woman, a mother,” she says. “But where are all the people screaming at all the men who leave their pregnant wives at home and go off to a war zone? Why is there no uproar about that?”

And while Addario hopes her book will foster a dialogue, for her, the most important goal was to be honest and open about her life and her struggles. “Sometimes I’ve made mistakes,” she says, “and sometimes I haven’t, but I’ve always learned something, and that’s what I want to teach my son.”

Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist represented by Getty Images Reportage. Her memoir, It's What I do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War, is published by Penguin Press.

Cubie King, who produced this video interview, is a senior producer at TIME.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.