Lynsey Addario: 'I never feel like I'm doing enough'

lynsey-addario-tom-stoddart-iris.jpgLynsey Addario with photographer Tom Stoddart at the Annenberg Space for Photography. Photo by Iris Schneider.

I couldn't help thinking of Lynsey Addario while watching "Louder Than Bombs," a recent movie by Joachim Trier that focuses on a woman war photographer. There are undeniably fewer women photographers on the front lines than men and even Addario, whose work has won every journalism award out there including a Pulitzer and a MacArthur genius grant, recently acknowledged that now that she has a young child she is less available or willing to run off to cover breaking news around the world. Interviewed recently at the opening of "Refugee," a photography exhibit at the Annenberg Space about the global refugee crisis that includes her work, Addario talked a bit about being a woman, wife and mother and covering hard news and conflict worldwide.

"Having a child, it's harder and harder to work on assignments like news," she told me. "I can't just get on a plane. I'm tortured. That's the reason i waited till 38 to have my son. I come from a very close family, and I knew I'd have to make those compromises. I wanted to have a family and as a woman we have a finite amount of time."

Addario came of age as a photographer after 9/11, and has worked in conflict zones worldwide, mainly for the New York Times, since 2000. The youngest of four sisters brought up in Connecticut by Italian American hairdressers, she began shooting in Argentina where she went to live and learn Spanish after graduating from University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1995. She became interested in photographs she saw in the local newspapers and thought that photography might be a career that would allow her to combine her interest in international relations with the art of storytelling. She begged the local newspaper for a job and after much persistence, they gave her one. Later, she moved to New York to learn the skills she needed and found a mentor in Bebeto Matthews. She began freelancing for Associated Press. She lived in India, then Afghanistan. In one interview she talked about her parents, who were not news junkies like her, but rather clueless about the dangerous world she was beginning to explore. She remembers telling them she was going off to Afghanistan. "Have fun!" they told her as she headed out.

Her career has taken off, mainly due to her great eye, compassion and commitment to telling the stories of those under the radar, particularly of women. In Afghanistan she focussed on the lives of women under Taliban rule. She has worked hard, putting in 18 hour days when she is immersed in a story. She has worked in Afghanistan, Iraq, Republic of the Congo, and the Middle East. But coming from a large family, she always knew she "wanted to start a family of my own someday. In 2005 I met my husband, Paul de Bendern. He was the Reuters bureau chief in Turkey and I was living in Istanbul. We are perfect for one another. He's driven, dedicated to his own work. He understands."

She continued to do the work that mattered to her, often putting herself at risk. But her "someday" finally arrived after a harrowing experience in Libya when she was kidnapped along with three other journalists in 2011. Their driver was killed before they were taken hostage and held for a week. It was not the first time she was held hostage while on assignment or thought her life was in danger.

"After being held hostage in Libya, I came out and thought there were three times in my life that I thought 'I"m dead.' Then Tim (Hetherington) and Chris (Hondros) were killed. That sent me over the edge," she said. "I thought it was time to step back. It was a moment of saying, I've given my life to this work, and still do, but I have to have something else that grounds me. I don't want to end up this wayward, empty soul just traumatized by everything I've seen. Having a child and loving husband gives me this grounding and provides me with a huge amount of love...I'm not working as much on the front line. I can't cover as much breaking news...I don't have the flexibility anymore. Is it okay? It has to be okay.

"Do I wish I could have been in Lesbos? Of course, but I couldn't do it. You can kind of have it all, but you really can't. There is a sacrifice...It's like I never feel like I'm doing enough. I always feel I'm failing either as a mother or as a photojournalist." That speaks volumes about her commitment to her craft and the responsibility she feels to her subjects, and the pull at the same time of her family ties. These are the personal costs of being a woman immersed in the world of conflict photography, some of which Joachim Trier attempts to address in "Louder Than Bombs."

More by Iris Schneider:
Recently on Native Intelligence
New at LA Observed