The life-and-death story behind an acclaimed photo

While journalists are cautioned in school not to get involved in the story, some help in different ways.

Photograph by Lynsey Addario
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BADAKHSHAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan—Among the subjects that have long compelled London-based photographer Lynsey Addario: maternal mortality, which she has documented in many countries; and the difficult lives of women in modern Afghanistan. The drama she encountered on a rural Afghan road in December 2010 entwined both. Surprised by the unusual sight of unaccompanied women in the countryside, Addario and the physician she was traveling with learned one of the women was pregnant, and in labor. Her husband previously had lost a wife to childbirth. His car had broken down, he was trying to locate another, and Addario and her companion drove the family to a hospital. This episode, recounted in a magazine compilation of Addario’s Afghanistan images, ended without grief. Aided by nurses, the 18-year-old mother delivered a baby girl.

Photograph by Lynsey Addario
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Sometimes our photographers do more than take images—they also help.

In Afghanistan on a story about maternal mortality, Lynsey Addario came across these two women on the road. Photographing them against a stark background, Addario was struck that they were out alone.

It turns out one was in labor.

“We offered to take them to the hospital, but they said they needed the husband's permission," Addario told my colleague David Beard. Addario and her guide went, got the husband's permission, returned, then drove the woman to a hospital, where the baby was delivered.

It was a happy counterpoint to a grim assignment. “So many women,” Addario said, “die in Afghanistan because they have no access” to medical attention.

While journalists are cautioned in school not to get involved in the story, some help in different ways. Through his Photo Ark, Joel Sartore has catalogued more than 9,800 vulnerable animals, raising awareness about the massive decline of species. Wildlife filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert not only have photographed big cats in Africa, but started an initiative to buy conservation land and have persuaded some Masai people not to hunt them.

In just a few minutes, one act of kindness paid off for Australian photographer Matthew Abbott. He told us earlier this month that he was helping move trash bins away from fire-threatened homes in Australia when he spotted a frightened kangaroo, bouncing by the flames, searching for safety.

His good deed put him in a perfect position for an iconic image.