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  • Writer's pictureTerrie

A dramatic memoir - It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War

It's What I Do: A Photograher's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

Genre: Memoir

Published 2015, 368 pages

I picked this book for one of LAST year's challenge reads and never got around to it. Then, this year #PopSugar20 had a category that reminded me of this book on my TBR, so this time I actually read it. It was a good choice. This is not your typical fluffy celebrity tell-all but rather a gritty, eye-opening, sometime disturbing look at war and one woman's attempt to put a human face on the costs of it.

In this far ranging memoir, Addario describes her unusual, very liberal upbringing. Raised by parents who were both hairdressers and had the type of open household that welcomed everyone from transvestites to cross dressers to .... anyone and everyone that didn't feel welcome elsewhere. In that environment she and her 3 sisters were allowed to roam freely and encouraged to follow any and all of their interests.

One of her mom's common mantras was:

"Do what makes you happy, and you will be successful in life."

A Camera and a Career

Addario took that advice to heart and when she was gifted a camera at 13, she taught herself how to use it (this was film, before digital!). As she got older, she discovered she loved to travel and her camera became her constant companion. She gradually discovered that she loved and got great satisfaction from photographing people, which led to jobs with AP and other news agencies.

Addario spends most of the book describing her experiences as a war photographer in some of the most embattled places in the world. After 9/11 she was able to return to Afghanistan and from there she went from conflict to conflict around the world. It was then that she decided she wanted to focus on the human toll of war, the refugees, the injured and starved, the women who were abused and left for dead. It's difficult reading sometimes.

After a while, the recitation of where she covered and people/friends she worked with became just words on the page. It became difficult for me to stay emotionally engaged with so many locations and so much death and dying and devastation - I don't know how she managed to live through it and actively strive to go back to those war-torn countries.

A Woman's Choices: Personal Life or Career?

I felt drawn back into her life and the story when she occasionally turned to her personal turmoil. In her 20s, she felt indestructible and wanted to be in the middle of every hot spot. She realized it would be impossible to maintain a 'normal' relationship, so just focused on her work. As she got into her 30s, the internal conflict grew and she wrestled with how to have a life with friends and loved ones AND do the job she loved. It's a dilemma many women face - hers is just more dramatic because her job puts her in such dangerous locations and circumstances.

"I moved around the desert camp self-consciously, a white, well-fed, woman trudging through their misery. The people understood I was an international journalist, but I was still trying to figure out how to take pictures of them without compromising their dignity. ... my role was always the same: Tread lightly, be respectful, get into the story as deeply as I could without making the subject feel uncomfortable or objectified."

I would recommend It's What I Do to those who enjoy a look at an unusual career and lifestyle or who want to read an unflinching account of war and its aftermath.

Reading Challenge: #PopSugar20 #38: by or about a journalist You can follow my progress on all the Reading Challenges I'm attempting this year on the Challenges tab at the top of the page.

photo via, fabio alvez

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