Lynsey Addario Describes Her Experiences as a Renowned Photojournalist
Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario discussed her time documenting various conflicts and crises across the globe in a packed Schwab Auditorium on Monday. Her New York Times best selling memoir, “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,” was chosen by Penn State Reads as this year’s common text, the complimentary book given to incoming freshmen at New Student Orientation. The event was sponsored by Penn State Reads.
In 2000, Addario went to Afghanistan for the first time to cover life under the rule of the Taliban. Part of her coverage involved documenting the oppression of women under the regime. “I learned very quickly that as a woman, I had access to women,” Addario said. “I am drawn to telling women stories, especially because in a lot of the places I work, there aren’t a lot of woman photographers.”
“After September 11,” Addario continued, “I raised my hand to cover the fall of the Taliban.” In her coverage, Addario found herself in combat situations for the first time. “ I didn’t know if I would be able to handle combat,” she said. Addario talked about the dangers she endured while covering the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, in which she described being mortared and shot at almost every day by Taliban forces.
A year later, she would meet with members of the Taliban. “That’s one of the great privileges of being a journalist,” she said. “You get to cover different sides of the story.”
Addario was able to infiltrate the Taliban’s camp as a woman by posing as her colleague’s wife. She described one point in which the Taliban fighters seemed particularly anxious around her. “I think, ‘oh great, this is where they kill us,’” she said.
In actuality, the Taliban fighters were discussing how she would able to drink her tea while wearing a burka. “If they invite you into their home, they have to serve you,” Addario said. “This is the Taliban and they’re stressed about how they will give us tea.” Addario responded by going to a corner and facing the wall before sipping her tea.
In 2003, Addario began her documentation of the war in Iraq. While in Baghdad, she photographed wounded American soldiers, asking permission from those who were conscious, and seeking later approval from those who weren’t. “I try and leave that up to the subject,” Addario said. “If someone doesn’t give me a boundary, I will keep shooting… It’s very important to show the comprehensive story and just how bad things get.”
Addario also discussed her coverage of Libya, in which she was captured by forces loyal to dictator Muammar Gaddafi. She talked about evading gunfire by seeking cover in her driver’s car. “I realized the bullets were coming non-stop,” Addario said, “and the car wasn’t armored.” She finally decided to make a run for a nearby building, where she was greeted by more of Gaddafi’s troops. “Over and over they threatened us with execution,” Addario said. But despite the abuses she and her fellow reporters endured, they were eventually set free. “Even when we were being kidnapped in Libya,” Addario said. “I don’t blame it on them…they were brainwashed…they had no free press.”
Throughout the night, Addario discussed her challenges covering a great number of international crises including Syrian refugees, maternal deaths and rape as a weapon of war. Through all of these experiences, Addario talked about the importance of keeping these issues in the conversation. ““I try to carry it with me,” Addario said. “It’s important to talk about these things so that we don’t forget.”
Jamie Weikel, a freshman majoring in biological engineering, later echoed Addario’s sentiment while waiting in line for her to sign a copy of “It’s What I Do.” “I didn’t realize she’d go into detail about all of her experiences,” Weikel said. “I think with her photographs, she’s really just trying to share the message of what’s going on in the world, and why it’s important for us here to understand what’s going on.”
Junior Tori Rooney found Addario’s speech, “absolutely amazing” as a journalism major. “I think her experience is unbelievable,” Rooney said. “There’s really no one else to compare her to… I think she gives a voice to the voiceless, especially to the women who are subject to inequality in underprivileged countries.”