Women’s Leadership Forum Features Pulitzer Prize–Winning War Photographer

Friday, May 12, 2017

Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist Lynsey Addario shared her stories of covering war and its aftermath in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa at William Blair’s annual women’s leadership forum held May 10 in Chicago. Nearly 300 women attended the event.

The forum has grown more popular every year as it brings women together to discuss some of the most important issues facing the world and to inspire change.

Michelle Seitz, head of Investment Management for William Blair, introduced Addario who never thinks of herself as a war photographer. Rather she thinks of herself as a photographer who covers the issues surrounding war. Addario, an American journalist now based in London, is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the New York Times, and Time magazine; she began covering the realities of war in 2000 when she first traveled to Afghanistan.

Addario has been covering Afghanistan for 17 straight years and has also traveled to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Darfur, South Sudan, the Congo, and Libya. In 2009, Addario was part of a team awarded a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.

Addario recalled many stories of war while sharing her photos, including being kidnapped along with three fellow New York Times journalists in Libya by Muammar el-Qaddafi troops in 2011. All were blindfolded, bound, beaten, and threatened with execution until they were released six days later.

At the time of the kidnapping, Addario was shooting the final days of Qaddafi’s regime, which was becoming increasingly more dangerous as the fall of Qaddafi was imminent.

“We wanted to cover civilian casualties, we wanted to cover the fighting,” said Addario recalling the team’s discussions on how long to stay. “This is one of those important decisions a journalist has to make—we stayed too long.”

Women in war zones
A regular theme of Addario’s work is capturing the lives of women in male-dominated societies.

In 2009, when Addario was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant, she took on a long-term project to cover maternal health in regions of the world with the highest maternal mortality. She shared powerful images at the gathering, including a 2010 photo of two Afghan women veiled in blue.

It was an unusual setting—two women alone, unaccompanied by a man—in rural Afghanistan when Addario and her interpreter stopped. They learned the two were mother and daughter. The daughter was in labor and her husband had been traveling with them to the closest hospital when their car broke down. He had already left on foot to find help. His first wife died in childbirth and he was determined that his second wife would not. After finding the husband along the road, Addario and her interpreter drove the family to the hospital where the new mother safely gave birth to a baby girl.

Addario also shared a story of pregnant women from the African state of Sierra Leone. It has one of the world’s highest rates of women dying in childbirth, with about 900 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

“I went there to figure out why,” Addario said.

While there, she met a young pregnant woman at the Magburaka Government Hospital who had traveled by canoe and ambulance to reach the facility, as a result of complications from giving birth to the first of twins in her remote village. After the birth of the second child the mother hemorrhaged and died.

Addario said U.S. drug maker Merck saw her pictures of the young Sierra Leone mother, which had been published in Time magazine, along with an accompanying video.

“They were so moved that they allocated $500,000 to fight for maternal life just based on the story,” said Addario, noting it was one the most gratifying experiences of her career.

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