Burying herself into the earth, she scrambled for shelter as Libyan fighters’ Kalashnikov bullets zinged over her head.
It was another ‘day at the office’ for Lynsey Addario, who has spent the best part of two decades filing images from war zones.
She said the minutes she spent burrowing into the dirt as Libyans battled Colonel Gaddafi’s forces made her feel like a failure because she “forgot to take pictures” as she was focusing on staying alive.
Days after escaping the gunfire in 2011, Addario was kidnapped by pro-Gaddafi forces with three other journalists. She was blindfolded, groped, told she was going to die and repeatedly punched in the face before she and her colleagues were released three days later.
Two years before the kidnapping and torture, Addario was involved in a car accident in Islamabad during which her driver died.
The experiences are typical of the mother-of-one’s existence. As well as covering Libya, Addario has shot conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and won a Pulitzer Prize for her part in a 2009 New York Times investigation into the Taliban.
“In Libya I asked myself questions which still haunt me like, ‘Why do you do this?’”
Jennifer Lawrence is set to play her in a film directed by Steven Spielberg based on Addario’s book, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War.
There have been many occasions when Addario felt her life was saved by instinct alone – “But that instinct can run out,” she told Loaded when she sat down to discuss her life and very deadly times. “Who knows if I have survived because of instinct or because I’m lucky?” she added.
But the 42-year-old continues because she knows in an age warped by Isis, her images are more relevant than ever. She has spent recent months on the ground documenting the civilian casualties in Iraq and exposing a culture of violence against women in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The daughter of two hairdressers, Addario grew up in Connecticut and became a full-time photographer in 1996 aged 20, initially for Associated Press. She moved to London after marrying journalist Paul de Bendern, with whom she has one son, three-year-old Lukas.
Of her terrifying kidnapping in Libya, Addario said, “That day in Libya I asked myself the questions that still haunt me like, ‘Why do you do this work?’ After 10 years as a war correspondent, it remains a difficult question to answer. The truth is that few of us are born into this work. It’s something we discover accidentally, something that happens gradually. We get a glimpse of this unusual life and this extraordinary profession and we want to keep doing it, no matter how exhausting, stressful or dangerous it becomes.”
One of her biggest desires is that her new book will change people’s perceptions of why she continues to put herself on the frontline.
Addario said, “I hope people come away from the book understanding that war correspondents are not driven by adrenaline. It’s a calling, something so much greater than an addiction to adrenaline.”
Here, she provides the stories behind some of her most incredible images.
“In this image, US troops carry the body of Staff Sgt. Larry Rougle, who was killed when insurgents ambushed his squad in Korengal Valley in the north of Afghanistan in 2007. SSG Rougle was on his third deployment to Afghanistan and had also served three times in Iran in eight years.”
“It was 2008 and 20-year-old Kahindo sits in her home in the village of Kayna in Eastern Congo with her two children, who were born out of rape. Kahindo was kidnapped and held for almost three years in the bush by six men who Kahindo says were Rwandan soldiers. They each raped her repeatedly. She had one child in the forest and was pregnant with the second by the time she escaped. An average of 400 women per month are estimated to be sexually assaulted in Eastern Congo.”
“Iraqi women weep, some looking for loved ones, as they walk along rows of remains of bodies discovered in a mass grave south of Baghdad in 2003. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq thousands of bodies have been pulled from mass grave sites around the country. It’s evidence of the brutal, bloody regime of the former dictator.”
“Soldiers with the Sudanese Liberation Army sit by their truck in April 2004 while stuck in the mud in the Sudanese region of Darfur. The SLA is one of the rebel groups controlling parts of Darfur. Rebels were staging a 24-hour boycott of the peace talks for Sudan in protest at attacks against civilians in Darfur. Up to 50,000 people have died since the Sudan conflict began in February 2003. More than a million have fled their homes for fear of attack.”
“Somali children try to feed biscuits to a breastfeeding woman suffering from dehydration and hunger moments after she arrived at a reception centre after she crossed from Somalia into Kenya in August 2011 to flee a prolonged drought. With roughly 400,000 refugees, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world. The camp is grossly over capacity, and the refugees experience an ever-shrinking access to essential services such as water sanitation, food and shelter. In part it’s because they have been sharing their rations with the new arrivals.”
“Afghan woman Noor Nisa stands in labour on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan’s Badakhshan Province in November 2009. It is her first pregnancy, her waters have just broken and they are waiting there because their car broke down on the side of the road. My driver Shir Mohammad went to look for other transport while Noor and her 40-year-old mother Nazer Begam waited.”
Lynsey Addario’s It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life Of Love And War, £20, is available from Corsair.
Loaded’s entertainment editor Jennifer O’Brien is an award-winning journalist who has written extensively about popular culture as a national newspaper columnist and author. Follow her on Twitter at @Jen_OBrien1