By Katie Steinharter
Lynsey Addario’s book, “It’s What I Do,” is one of those books that stays with you, that changes you, that influences you. It is one of those books that does what a book should do – offer a perspective, inspire a new point of view, inform you about a corner of the world you may not otherwise see. Not only is the story fascinating, but the hard cover copy is also genuinely a beautiful artifact filled with thick,glossy photographs.
In a way, I was drawn to this book because I wanted to see myself in Addario. Like me, she is a woman who was born in Connecticut but has a passion for global travel and using the arts to increase awareness about issues, while working for a media company. Unlike myself, however, Addario has spent time in every major international conflict area in her lifetime and went on to produce award-winning photography and write an award-winning book that addresses controversial modern issues: feminism, gender roles, family, war, international relations, and the crossover of professional and personal lives.
Shortly before reading Lindsey Addario’s book, I traveled to Israel for a few days. Standing in line for schawarma in the Arab Quarter of Jerusalem, just outside the Gate of Damascus, I waited for ten minutes to be served. Wavering between both countertops, neither server seemed to notice that I was next in line. Slowly looking around, I realized nobody would make eye contact with me. Guest after guest received his schawarma, but neither my boyfriend nor I could get anybody’s attention. Readjusting the scarf around my neck and anxiously stretching my long black sleeves down over my thumbs, I finally walked outside toward the curb.
Looking back, my boyfriend was finally holding a pita full of juicy meat and shredded vegetables. Every other man inside was also being served quickly… and every man standing inside and outside of the shop was stealing sideways glances at me, the only woman out after dark.
Gender is confusing. Today it feels like our personal identities have become a matter of political, social, and even economic conversations. Cultural behavior is influenced by tradition, and yet traditions are adjusted to cultural adaption. As a successful female photojournalist, Addario writes about how different her experiences were from the men she worked with. She attempts to understand for us where gender roles come from in different cultures, and analyzes the way women are therefore treated worldwide – whether it is her own coworkers’ fear of motherhood impeding on a career, soldiers groping her while being kidnapped, being held captive at a conflict border because she is female, or simply being taken less seriously.
Addario does not depict the countries she visits in a negative manner, but instead sheds light on global issues that may or may not be unique to corners of the world. She writes in a way that makes you never want the stories to end. I wanted to read this book over and over. Paired with her knack for storytelling is of course the award-winning photography to provide insight into peoples’ different ideas of normality and put the reader’s own life into perspective.
Her book reminds us the important role that the media play in both depicting a scene as well as just generally shedding light on an otherwise unreachable world. In Sudan, Addario meets children born out of wedlock due to sexual assault; in Iraq, she feigns pregnancy to escape a kidnapping. And yet, worldwide, she also shares tea and car rides and stories with people who welcome her into their cultures. She says, “Iraq and Darfur were too different worlds, yet 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” (p. 179).
So, what is it that she does? Without including a spoiler, she admits that she never sought to be a conflict photographer, but did always love to see the world. She says, “[photographers] bear witness to history, and influence policy” (p. 15). Without brave women like Lynsey Addario, how else would we see what is happening on the other side of the world?
Katie Steinharter lives in Denver, Colorado but finds herself at home all around the world. She has visited more than 40 countries, lived in 5, and has family in 3. She is a marketing/social media strategist and content creator by day. She has been published by Technology+Innovation, Pin The Map Project, iDE Global, Nokero Solar, and The Denver Post. In her free time, Katie is either painting Colorado’s landscapes or enjoying the view from her snowboard, paddle board or trail running shoes. She taught herself to read, and to this day she lives by her father’s words: “You can never have too many books”.