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June 6, 2011

From the Front Lines of Libya


Addario takes a photo of a wounded Iraqi boy in the city of Kirkuk after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Photo Credit: Chang Lee/The New York Times

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CBS News correspondent Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted by a mob of men in Cairo earlier this year, has said that when she heard about your ordeal, Lynsey, it was a setback in her recovery.
Lynsey: I read that and it upset me. But I understand. I felt like that myself when I heard about Tim and Chris — that was a huge setback for me. It just shows how vulnerable we all are and how, like the people we cover, our lives are at risk all the time. I think I'm strong, and I think I've processed a lot of what happened in Libya, but there certainly is a lot of residual trauma. It has been a rough year for journalists. Joao Silva lost his legs when he stepped on a landmine in Afghanistan; others have been detained. When our friends were killed last week, it just set me reeling. I basically couldn't really do anything for the past week. They were friends and colleagues and people that I've shared a lot of experiences with over the years. It's devastating on many levels. It's a loss for everyone.

Are you getting any therapy to help with the fallout from your experience in Libya?
Lynsey: The Times has been great — they have someone that speaks to their correspondents after they've suffered some sort of trauma. For me, I have gotten a few names of people who deal with PTSD, and I will speak to someone. I do think it's important to deal with something like this and not let it linger too long.

Reporters get conflict training, but not sexual-assault training. Now the Committee to Protect Journalists is adding sexual-assault guidelines to its handbook. Will that help?
Lynsey: I don't think there is a right answer. There are ways to minimize the risk if you are a woman working in the Middle East: You can dress modestly, wear the hijab, cover your head, always travel with a man. But a woman can get assaulted in Washington D.C. These things happen around the world and they happen in the U.S. There are things you can do to decrease the risk, but there are things you just take in stride as part of the job.

Women often don't report sexual assault, for fear of losing an assignment...
Lynsey: A lot of women reporters are scared of coming forward. And I'm not gonna complain every time a guy grabs my butt. I'm just not gonna do it. My editors are never gonna send me anywhere if I do that. That's a concern, of course, that we all have. If women are all of a sudden complaining all the time about getting sent to Pakistan, then if I were an editor, I probably wouldn't send a woman either.

So unless it's a major assault, like what happened to Lara Logan, women aren't talking about it.
Lynsey: Right. What happened to Lara Logan is the extreme. It's horrible and it's extremely traumatic. I'm very glad that she came forward because I think it was very brave of her to do so. There are benefits to her coming forward — other women will in fact come forward now. But she said in her interview with the Times that she didn't want this to define her as a journalist. I understand that. She has a large body of work behind her, and it shouldn't be the only thing people remember her by. But it will take time.

You were held captive by gunmen in Fallujah, Iraq, seven years ago ...
Lynsey: It was only for about eight hours, and in Iraq at that time, a lot of people were getting kidnapped. It was very dramatic and terrifying, but it didn't compare to the six days we spent in Libya.

How did you become a war photographer?
Lynsey: When I graduated from college, in 1995, I moved to Argentina because I wanted to learn Spanish. I had already lived in Europe — I studied abroad in Italy my junior year — so I picked Latin America. When I got there, I ended up wanting to go to a newspaper to try photography. I basically pushed and pushed, till finally they got so annoyed with me, they gave me an opportunity: They said if I could get access to Madonna filming Evita, they would give me a job. I ended up talking my way on to the set. Once I started photographing in Argentina, after the Dirty War in Latin America, there was a lot of sadness and residual effects of the war. I found it very important to cover that. After that, I freelanced for the Associated Press for three years in New York; I had to prove myself, and I had a wonderful mentor who basically walked me through everything. Once I learned how to do it, I moved to India to try to work overseas. I emailed some freelance clients like The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor, they said yeah, we can use you.

A few years later, you got yourself to Afghanistan…
Lynsey: Yes, when I read about women living under the Taliban, I really wanted to travel there and see for myself: Is it that bad? What is the situation? I remember the night before I left for my trip, I called my mom and said, "I'm going to Afghanistan tomorrow." My parents are hairdressers in Connecticut. Before I became a journalist, they didn't really read the newspapers so much. So she was like, "OK honey, have a good time!" She had no idea, you know? It was very funny. She had basically no concept of where I was going and the dangers I was about to face. At that time in Afghanistan, photography of any living thing was illegal. Once my mom realized where I had gone, she was like, What the fuck!

Photography was illegal in Afghanistan, but you brought your camera anyway?
Lynsey: I did. Having a camera at that time was very terrifying. If the Taliban saw you with a camera, they would stop you. On that first trip, I was able to work for about a week with the UN and with a landmine organization. We drove through the provinces and I took photos, but I had to be very fast and sneak around. After that, I was assigned a Taliban "minder" who followed me everywhere. But he couldn't follow me into homes where there were women, so I took photos inside people's homes.

Where did you get the nerve?
Lynsey: I've always been interested in the rest of the world. My family is very eccentric; my parents have always been very supportive of travel and doing whatever I thought I needed to do. I'm incredibly focused. I think it's a blessing and a curse. I'm so driven that nothing else can stand in my way. For many years, I didn't have a personal life.

You and Paul met in Turkey and have been married for two years. He obviously understands your work, but what about the rest of your family?
Lynsey: I think they do now. It took several years for them to understand the impact of the work I do and why I do it. But they very quickly got invested in journalism when they started seeing that I was publishing in The New York Times and all these places. Now they always follow my stories. What's difficult is the strain we put on our loved ones in this job. At times I feel like it's a very selfish profession, even though our goal is to be selfless, to help other people by telling their stories. But for the people who love us it's very difficult. I know that after Fallujah my parents were falling apart, and the same thing happened after Libya. It's hard to do that, to put that sort of strain on my family. I hope that my work helps people — that's the thing that drives me and keeps me going.

Are you itching to go back out there and start photographing again?
Lynsey: I'm sort of itching, not to get back to Libya, but to get back to work. I don't think I'm gonna go right back into combat now. I'll just take more mellow assignments for the time being. I'll just see when I feel ready.

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