A Woman’s Place: In the (Conflict) Zone

Tomorrow my Foreign Correspondence journalism students in Luxembourg take up the case of whether women should report from conflict and war zones, or in cultures where women are treated as unequal.

The focus of our discussion is Lynsey Addario, the dynamic visual journalist who is a strong proponent of women doing journalism wherever they damn well please.

Lynsey Addario
Lynsey Addario

I’m looking forward to hearing what the college women in the group think of Addario’s powerful message in this Columbia University case study. That message boils down to:

Dark Things Can Happen to Anyone, but the World Must Know the Truth. And Tell those who Stand in Your Way to Go to Hell.

It reminds me of my U.S. Army days, when I usually forgot that I was a woman and just went out and did the 101st Airborne Division’s work to the best of my ability.

101st Airborne role on D Day
Map of D Day invasion on Normandy Coast, noting 101st Airborne’s initial role. Photo by A.L.Blair

Air Assault School. Sniper School. Leading intelligence gathering platoons onto the “front lines” of big training exercises in the Mohave Desert. Running 10 miles in Army boots with a rucksack. I wanted to do it, I could do it, so I did.

Many admire Addario, who has worked in the world’s darkest places. Somalia. Libya. Afghanistan. Congo. Without a shower, wearing the same clothes for days on end, eschewing a typical woman’s daily “needs.”

She’s a MacArthur Fellow who today tells stories for The New York Times, Time and National Geographic magazines – many of those stories about humanitarian crises. Addario’s autobiography, It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War was published in 2015.

Last weekend I was looking for the Reporter’s Memorial in Bayeux, France, just a few kilometers from the D Day invasion sites of Omaha and Utah beaches. The memorial is in a shady garden and features white pillars for each year since World War II that list the names of all journalists killed globally that year.

Reception garden of hotel
Garden reception area of Hötel du Doyen in Bayeux, where the NOOR Collective exhibition was held. The Bayeux Cathedral is in the background. Photo by A.L.Blair

I never got there, instead stumbling on “Forgotten Conflicts, Conflicts of Tomorrow,” a multimedia exhibition of the NOOR Collective – photographers and videographers who document the human condition in hopes of effecting global change.

The exhibition was part of the 24th Bayeux-Calvados War Correspondents gathering and annual awards in Bayeux.

“Are you here for the ceremony or the exhibition?” asked a weathered man in a fedora as I entered the hall. He seemed bemused that I stammered, “Exhibition.”

If only I’d done my research and attended that ceremony. I might have met the VII Photo Agency journalist Ali Arkady, of Iraq.

Arkady won this year’s International Jury Nikon Award for “Kissing Death,” the horrific story of an Emergency Response Division in Iraq that stole from, raped, tortured and killed innocent civilians. It was published in the Italian news magazine L’Espresso.

Though more than 100 people wandered the NOOR exhibition while I was there, the place was virtually silent.

I sat and watched Tanya Habjouqa’s “Tomorrow there will be Apricots” interactive documentary, a moving piece of art and journalism about Syrian refugees in Jordan.

And then Francesco Zizola’s “In the Same Boat,” about his three weeks on a Doctors Without Borders boat witnessing the refugee crisis off the coast of Libya.

My heart was in my throat, but as I stood others immediately took my headphones and seat.

In her book, Addario writes of foreign correspondents like herself:

“We feel more comfortable in the darkest places than we do back home, where life seems too simple and too easy. We don’t listen to that inner voice that says it is time to take a break from documenting other people’s lives and start building our own.

“Under it all, however, are the things that sustain us and bring us together: the privilege of witnessing things that others do not; an idealistic belief that a photograph might affect people’s souls; the thrill of creating art and contributing to the world’s database of knowledge.”

I hope this is what my students debate tomorrow. The world will always need women like Addario.

American Military Cemetery Normandy Coast
American military cemetery on Normandy Coast – lives lost mainly on D Day and in the weeks after. Photo by A.L.Blair

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