Inside a Female Photographer's Experience Documenting War

Photojournalist Lynsey Addario discusses her #metoo experience shooting conflict and culture.

Lynsey Addario has photographed war and conflict for more than a decade. Her pictures show the horror of combat but also our shared humanity across cultures. Addario's photography was consulted to bring to life The Long Road Home, a series based on the events and aftermath of one of the deadliest days of the Iraq War.

Addario talked to National Geographic about seeing her work portrayed in a TV series. And in the #metoo moment, Addario speaks about her experience as a female photographer working in tense and unforgiving environments.

In the Long Road Home, we see dramatic scenes of the Sadr City attack on U.S. troops. How do you remember actually being there?

The day I went into Sadr City while this battle was unfolding, I didn't realize how bad it was. It looked like Armageddon. There was smoke burning everywhere, gunshot, America tanks. But at that point in Iraq in 2004, I was covering IEDs and explosions and gun battles pretty often. So for me, I just thought it was a typical scene. I didn't think it would unfold over however many days or hours it went on.

Lynsey Addario Profile Photojournalist Lynsey Addario visits the set of The Long Road Home and talks about what it was like to be in Sadr City, Iraq during the Black Sunday battle.

Could you imagine a decade and a half later, it'd be portrayed in a TV series?

Yes and no. I feel like so much about the war in Iraq merited an incredible series. The greatest thing about the Long Road Home is that it dissects everything that happened. It was so symbolic of everything that happened over a long period of time in Iraq that most Americans have no idea just how bad it was. A series like this is so important because it actually shows what the troops went through and the trauma that they suffered at home. These are all fundamental things. We can't forget what they sacrificed.

Knowing now that your work is informing a pop culture representation, do you ever think of ways you'd have shot it differently?

Yeah, I think about that a lot. I think the first time I was in an ambush and was shot at by Iraqi insurgents, I was so scared I could barely photograph. So of course I wish that I could go back with the experience I have now and be able to maintain my cool and actually make good pictures. I was so scared, I missed so much. I always think I can go back and get all those shots I missed. But of course I can't.

We are in a moment of women speaking about challenges they've faced doing their jobs. Have you faced that?

I deal with it all the time. I think any woman in any profession deals with, if not sexual harassment then gender discrimination. The harassment in Libya, I've spoken very openly about. When I was captured for a week, I was groped over and over and threatened with execution. That was terrifying.

But also, when I went to protests and they're burning the American flag or effigies of George Bush right after September 11, I'd have 10 hands on my butt and people touching me as I was trying to photograph. For me, I don't want to be the woman who has to call back to New York and be like, "Oh I'm scared to cover a rally because I'm scared someone might touch me," because then you won't get the assignment. So for me, for many years, I just kept working.

Has anything changed as your profile has grown?

Well, now I'm 44 and I'm a mother. I think that whether it's conscious or unconscious, I'm not sent into conflict zones as much as I was before. I'll leave that up to your reader to figure out why that happens.

Lynsey Addario is a photojournalist focused on conflict and human rights. Follow her on Instagram.

Tune In: The Long Road Home, based on Martha Raddatz’s best-selling book of the same name, is an eight-part chronicle of the harrowing "Black Sunday" ambush faced by Fort Hood's 1st Cavalry Division in Baghdad during the Iraq War. Tune in tonight at 10/9c for the final episode on @NatGeoChannel. #LongRoadHome