Book review: It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War

A Photographer’s Life of Love and War
Lynsey Addario

I have a fondness for photography books which almost verges on an obsession. I enjoy spending time in my off grid cabin where there is nothing more enjoyable than sitting down to a photobook while the outside is blanketed in snow. I love being able to look into the world in complete stillness through a photographer’s lens. Sometimes the photobook  is a walk down memory lane as one looks at familiar landscapes and world events. Other times, it is a descent into the unknown, tragedy and conflict. As I started photographing, I found I knew very little about the world of photography. Reading is how learn, so I started purchasing photo books and reading!

When I mentioned to my photographer friend Stephen that I wanted to start writing short photobook reviews, I could hear his eyes rolling (we were on the phone)! Photobook reviews? Like writing words on a page? Yeah, that’s never going to happen! And where would you do this? In your current blog? The blog you post to once or twice a year? Who are we kidding here? And where would you find the time to do this? True words were never spoken! Given my work and travel schedule, it indeed seems impossible that I would be able to find the time to write photobook reviews in any shape or form!

Let’s have some fun and take a page out of Muhammed Ali’s book and say: Impossible is nothing! My photobook library is growing and it is time I introduced you to some incredible photographers. Plus, I haven’t commuted to work due to COVID-19 for a few weeks, I have put that time to good use!

Today I am going to start not with a photobook per say, but Linsey Addario’s memoir: “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War”. This is cheating a little bit I know but not to worry, I will follow up with a review of her photobook “Of War and Love”.

I came across Lynsey Addario’s work on the pages of the New York Times years ago. I remember reading a photo credit and realizing Lynsey was a in Afghanistan and thinking what the hell is she doing in Afghanistan? This was before other photojournalists arrived in Afghanistan. Addario has covered just about every major conflict and humanitarian crisis of our generation, including Iraq, Yemen, Darfur, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, South Sudan, Somalia, and Congo. “It’s What I Do,” chronicles her personal and professional life as a photojournalist coming of age in the post-9/11 world. To get a feel for the breath of her work, take a look at her editorial prints.

Lynsey Addario began her photography career for the Buenos Aires Herald in Argentina in 1996 without any previous photography experience. Today, Addario is one of America’s most accomplished conflict photographer. She does not just photograph wars, but the world’s injustices, conflicts, displacements and oppressions. Everywhere she goes, she bears witness, constantly making the decision not to stay home and travel to cover the stories that need to be told. Being behind the viewfinder is where she wants to be and in those moments, nothing else matters. In her book, we follow along in her journey.

For her work, Addario has won a Pulitzer Prize and a MacArthur fellowship, she has been named one of the five most influential photographers of the last twenty-five years (American Photo) and one of 150 Women Who Shake the World (Newsweek).

Following her kidnapping in Libya in 2011, and the subsequent deaths of her friends and colleagues Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros in Libya, Addario decided to process her kidnapping and survival experience by writing a memoir. Addario’s memoirs take us along as a driver side passenger while she is covering difficult assignments. I was struck by her openness to talk about her fears, being a women in a male dominated field, her dubious choices in love, loss and her unwavering desire to get her stories out.

Addario grew up in a family of hairdressers, in what she describes as a hippie home. She was a self-taught photographer who started her photography career when she moved to Argentina after college. Her first break was an assignment from the Associated Press to photograph transgender-prostitues in the Meatpacking District in 1999 amidst a spate of ignored homicides. This was her first long-term assignment and her first opportunity for a real photo-essay. In true Addario style, she spent weeks venturing out in the Meatpacking District “to make inroads into the seemingly impenetrable world of transgender prostitutes.” She traveled with a local organization that distributed condoms and information on sexually transmitted diseases and never took out her camera! Getting close to her subjects required earning their trust. 

Caption: Transgender prostitutes in the Meatpacking Distric in New York, 1999.

In 2000 she traveled to Afghanistan to photograph women living under the Taliban. Not only did she manage to land a visa to Afghanistan, but she also photographed people while photography was banned!

Post 9/11 brought on a series of assignments including: Iraq, South Korea, Haiti, the Middle East, Syria, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo.

As Addario herself mentions, her type of photography “bears witness to history, and influences policy.” Throughout her career she has given a voice to the voiceless and has been a champion of forgotten conflicts. Anywhere she goes, there is a story aching to get out and policies worth championing. Her book in its frankness and emotional honesty engages and moves the reader: if getting these photographs is worth the risks that Addario and her colleagues take daily, it behooves us to look. And understand the conflicts around us. And influence policy. And drive change.

Caption: Hanaa rides to work at a plum orchard before dawn along with other Syrian refugees from her informal tented settlement in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, August 3, 2015. Hanaa and her family fled Syria in 2011 at the beginning of the Syrian civil war, and moved to this settlement two years ago.
Caption: Syrian refugees line up for one of two daily hot meals distributed by Insani Yardim Vakfi, IHH, at the Bab al-Salam camp at the Syrian side of the country’s border with Turkey, in Syria, February 11, 2013. Roughly 800,000 Syrians have been displaced to neighboring countries by the fighting across Syria, and the aid to refugees has been marred by politics.
Caption: Afghan policewomen handle AMD-65 rifles at a dusty firing range outside Kabul. They are trained by carabinieri, Italian military police from the local NATO troops. Joining the police force is a bold decision for an Afghan woman. Insurgents often attack the police. Very few women get permission to sign up from their husband and male relatives. Of 100,000 officers, only about 700 are female.
Caption: North Darfur. Soldiers with the Sudanese Liberation Army wait by their truck while struck in the mud and hit by a sandstorm in North Darfur, Sudan, August 21, 2004.  
Kenyan women await food handouts and nutrition checks by Doctors without Borders during an ambulatory therapeutic feeding program for severely malnourished children in villages across Turkana, Kenya, August 15, 2011.

Pick up her biography anywhere you usually get your books. You will not be disappointed. It is beautifully written, emotional, and will nudge you out of your comfort zone to leave you with a better understanding of our world conflicts and a desire to change things.

If you would like to learn a bit more about Lyndsey Addario I would suggest the following videos and interviews. These segments are wonderful companions to the book:

  1. Rukmini Callimachi, New York Times foreign correspondent and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, moderates a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times photojournalist and best-selling author Lynsey Addario:
  2. From the front lines of Libya:
  3. Lindsay Addario tells the story behind five war photos:
  4. Lynsey Addario: ‘War journalists are not all addicted to adrenaline. It’s a calling’
  5. Inside the Story: Photojournalist Lynsey Addario Documents Three Families’ Search for Asylum


I came across this profile of Anker in my bookmarks. Really great profile from The Verge. I remember purchasing my first Anker battery years go and thinking – get out of the way other accessory companies! I am an Anker fan now. Love Anker! Great story too!

Steven Yang quit his job at Google in the summer of 2011 to build the products he felt the world needed: a line of reasonably priced accessories that would be better than the ones you could buy from Apple and other big-name brands. These accessories — batteries, cables, chargers — would solve our most persistent gadget problem by letting us stay powered on at all times. There were just a few problems: Yang knew nothing about starting a company, building consumer electronics, or selling products.
[Read on]

Calypso by David Sedaris

In 1968, Sedaris’s parents had just moved to Raleigh, N.C., and were eating at an oyster bar when the news came that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had been killed. Everyone in the restaurant — except the Sedarises — burst into applause. “Our family hadn’t been in the South very long, and that was a real eye-opener.”

A collection of twenty-one personal essays on approaching middle age by David Sedaris. It is engaging, cruel, humorous and witty. All at the same time.

Insomniac City

I used to read close to a hundred books (not related to work) a year. I haven’t done that in a while. This year I have decided to remedy that by at least committing to reading one book a week (#1bookaweek). I promised myself to start in January, and look here, it is already March. So to read at least 52 books this year, I am going to need to pick up the pace. No worries, this girl likes a challenge. To make things more interesting, I am committing to also briefly reviewing every book I read. Perhaps not “reviewing” as much as writing a few scribbles to summarize my reading.

I am happy that the first book in my reading adventure is Insomniac City by Bill Hayes. A page turner that I finished reading at the cabin in a single sitting.

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes
Insomniac City is:
A celebration of love, life and loss.
A love letter to New York City.
A love letter to Oliver Sacks.

After the death of his partner of sixteen years, Bill Hayes leaves San Francisco and moves to New York. Bill Hayes is a writer, photographer and insomniac. Seeking a fresh start in New York, he is rewarded by a city that never sleeps.

Hayes writes:
“If New York were a patient, it would be diagnosed with agrypnia excitata, a rare genetic condition characterized by insomnia, nervous energy, constant twitching, and dream enactment – an apt description of a city that never sleeps, a place where once comes to reinvent himself.

And reinvent himself, he did. He fell in love with New York City and then Oliver Sacks. Yes, the Dr. Oliver Sacks (I am a life long admirer!). Alongside the portrait of New York, Hayes paints a portrait of Oliver Sacks. We catch glimpses of his daily life: he writes with a fountain pen and has never used a mobile device. Has never emailed or texted (how is that possible!). He calls Hayes’ iPhone a “communicator”, he has no clue who Michael Jackson was and carries the periodic table in his wallet.

Told through notes and journal entries, Insomniac City is a book that you will devour in a single sitting. But perhaps you should press pause, and prolong your reading adventure.

Haywes writes:
I suppose it’s a cliché to say you’re glad to be alive, that life is short, but to say you’re glad to be not dead requires a specific intimacy with loss that comes only with age or deep experience. One has to know not simply what dying is like, but to know death itself, in all its absoluteness.

After all, there are many ways to die — peacefully, violently, suddenly, slowly, happily, unhappily, too soon. But to be dead — one either is or isn’t.

The same cannot be said of aliveness, of which there are countless degrees. One can be alive but half-asleep or half-noticing as the years fly, no matter how fully oxygenated the blood and brain or how steadily the heart beats. Fortunately, this is a reversible condition. One can learn to be alert to the extraordinary and press pause — to memorize moments of the everyday.

Good bye Dr. Oliver Sacks, we miss you!

Photograph by Bill Hayes.

Comedy Hack Day, the Toronto Edition! Eh!

Comedy Hack Day Toronto
Comedy Hack Day Toronto

My friend Tom Hobson and his partner in crime Zoe Daniels are organizing a Toronto version of Comedy Hack Day and it is happening in November. November 14 to November 15, 2015 to be exact.

This is a weekend long hackathon where you get to build a funny app, website, SaaS solution, hardware project or anything that you would like to build, provided it is funny/comedy related. As a developer you will have an entire weekend to do that, and at the end of the weekend you will get to demo your creation at a public show on Sunday night. A comedy show to be enjoyed by everyone who cares to join us!

Interested? Well, go ahead and apply to participate. Now.

If you have any excuse that you would like to use to avoid joining us, let me tell you this: your excuses SUCK! So join us. You will have a blast. And you will meet some awesome new friends. You have questions? Well Zoe and Tom are a friendly bunch, so go ahead and ask them anything!

If you are curious about what happened at other Comedy Hack Days, well check out LA, NYC, SF and everything you need to know about Comedy Hack Day Toronto can be found here, and here is how it is shaping up:


  • Location: HackerYou – 483 Queen St. West, Toronto
  • 6:30PM: Doors open
  • 7:00PM: Idea pitching
  • 8:00PM: Team formation
  • 8:30PM: Hacking begins
  • 11:00PM: HackerYou closes


  • Location: HackerYou – 483 Queen St. West, Toronto
  • 9:30AM: Doors open
  • 12:30PM: Lunch
  • 4:00PM: Projects due
  • 4:30PM: Internal demos
  • 6:00PM: Dinner for participants
  • 8:30PM: Doors open for public show
  • 9:00PM: Public show starts
  • 10:15PM: Awards announced
  • 10:30PM: Afterparty (location TBD)

Apply to participate in the hackathon.

Purchase a ticket to see the comedy show and view everything that has been built during the hackathon.

And did I forget to mention the awesome judges? Check out this judges line up! See you in November!

the 4 am panic

The 4am Panic is achieved when the work I need to complete exceeds my mental capacity to consider it. Something annoyingly biologically chemical is triggered at 4am where apparently I must uselessly consider all of my current work on my plate for no productive reason at all. Just stare at the ceiling and fret until I fall back to sleep.

In my case I don’t actually fall back to sleep and simply head to the office at 5 am. Starring at the ceiling while watching my entire to do list scroll by is pretty maddening. I am an internal optimist who REALLY needs to learn to delegate.

Dovercourt Little Free Library

This is where my read books, half read books, loved and unloved books end up @dovercourtlittlefreelibrary. Today’s delivery: David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell and an awesome travel guide to Madagascar. Enjoy !

On the 5 AM front: failure to report to duty at 5 AM. I have a good reason: too much wine and bourbon with friends. But yes, that’s just an excuse. Leila @ 5AM 1 / The world 1. We are even.

Continue reading

Win some, lose some


Leaving the home at 5 AM is my goal. Today I failed, but this gem on the way to work made me laugh out hard as I was beating myself!

Toronto Mini Maker Faire 2014: where it is cool to be smart.


I bet you didn’t know that I have been involved in helping bring the Maker Faire to Toronto. Our last year’s Mini Maker Faire was amazingly successful. For those of you not familiar with the Maker Faire, it is the greatest show and tell faire EVER, ok with perhaps The Great Exhibition as an exception! I have been attending the Maker Faire in California for years now and was thrilled when I started seeing Maker Faires popping up all over the world. Our 2013 Toronto Mini Maker Faire was amongst hundreds of faires held worldwide. And last weekend New York City’s Maker Faire was the 5th annual Maker Faire in New York City. It was also the 50th anniversary of the 1964 World’s Faire at the same site. The first Maker Faire was held in San Francisco in 2007. And this year we celebrated over 100 Maker Faires of which 65 were in North America!


For those of you not in the know (yes, the 3 of you) Maker Faires are award winning family friendly faires at the intersection of technology, education, science, arts, crafts, engineering, food, sustainability and more. Our Toronto Mini Maker Faire in 2013 was a geek celebration and it was amazing to see so many families, makers, engineers, children, artists, performers – all 4,000 of you! Thanks for joining us and making the Faire AWESOME. Our workshops were sold out, our makers incredibly busy demonstrating their creations, we ran out of space, it was crowded … it was insane… and electrical!

This year we are back at it and planning an even bigger faire. And we hope you will join us because it will be incredibly fun and you will be at the center of the third industrial revolution 🙂 The idea of making something ourselves is not new. We have been makers and creators for centuries. But making viewed through the lens of the Maker Faire is about bringing together a set of disciplines that at first look don’t relate to each other: arduinos and music, engineering and light, micro controllers and (robot) giraffes.

And honestly, where else would you see incredible projects, meet fantastic makers and find yourself amongst thousands of maker friends aged between 9 and 90!

So this year, don’t miss the Toronto Mini Maker Faire happening in November. It is free. And it will be awesome.

  • When: Saturday November 21 and Sunday November 22, 2014
  • Where: Toronto Reference Libarary
  • Registration: is open now and is FREE.

And just to get you dreaming, here are highlights of the New York Maker Faire 2014 which wrapped up last weekend. I had a blast and so will you in Toronto in just a few weeks!







Russell the electric giraffe is probably my most favourite Maker Faire project! I have been watching Russell grow since 2007! Here is an awesome trip down memory line with Russell.




“Digital Being” (in the above photograph) is a series of kinetic installations made of technological garbage. The installation at the New York Maker Faire was shaped like Manhattan. Taezoo Park who is a digital artist based in NYC creates these installations  and asks what if an invisible and formless creature could be born from and within the circuits of electronic waste? If you saw the children interacting with it, you would have your answer! Below is an image from one his previous installations (not at the faire):

Digital Being





The InMoov is open source, 3D printed and lifesize! Photo by Becca Henry, reporting by David Beauchamp.

RadBlackKidsThulani Ngazimbi from the Rad Black Kids makes custom longboards and guitars. The group also plants a tree for every product sold. Photo by Becca Henry, reporting by David Beauchamp.

StephenHawesStephen Hawes shows off his wrist mounted flamethrower. It is controlled by an Arduino board and uses a modified taser circuit for ignition. Photo by Becca Henry, reporting by David Beauchamp.

One of my favourite maker at the New York Maker Faire was Justin Weiner from BWArchitects with his artistic light installation. I helped him set up on Saturday early morning. I don’t have a video of his faire installation in the evening but this Tribeca video will give you an idea of its awesomeness.


So mark your calendar for the Toronto Mini Maker Faire and join us to celebrate tinkerers, inventors, and the next generation of makers, believe me when I say it will restore your faith in humanity.

Stone Soup Toronto Edition

On Wednesday I attended Toronto’s first edition of Stone Soup organized by my good friends Stuart Candy and Ceda Verbakel. It was a combination dinner party and storytelling. When the invitation landed in my inbox mentioning sharing a story, food in the form of a potluck and the company of 15 hand picked friends and strangers I rsvped with a hell yes!

For those unfamiliar with the Stone Soup story, the story goes like this: a traveler arrives in a village with nothing more than an empty cooking pot. Upon her arrival, she asks for assistance from the villagers for dinner and shelter for the night. The villagers are unwilling to part with any food or provide assistance as times are hard. The traveler having a cooking pot goes to a stream and fills it with water and puts it above a fire. She then drops a large stone in the cooking pot. A first villager walks by and asks her what she is doing to which she responds “making stone soup” which tastes wonderful however it needs a bit of additional flavouring which she is missing. The villager does not mind parting with a few carrots to help out. So that gets added to the soup. Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot as well, and the traveler mentions that the stone soup in the making still needs more garnishes to reach its full potential. This villager hands her a bit of seasoning to add to the soup. And slowly as villagers walk by and inquire as to what’s cooking and each part with a little something that can be added to the soup, the village ends up with a stone soup that is delicious and feeds everyone.

The Stone Soup version I am familiar with is la soupe au caillou by Father Phillipe Barbe (1771). I always loved the original ending.


Growing up I was a big fan of fables. Bonjour Jean de La Fontaine! Anyone remember La cigale et la fourmi? The entire collection of Barbe contes et fables philosophiques is accessible online and it is a wonderful read (albeit you will need to speak French!).

I am sure there are many many variations of the Stone Soup story and a version to suit pretty much any country or culture. It is such an adaptable story with a beautiful ending.

Last night’s first edition of Stone Soup in Toronto was in theory a pretty simple event: get a few people together for dinner, ask everyone to bring a dish since dinner was potluck style and pick a theme for the evening. Yesterday’s theme was “first”.

The evening started in the garden with drinks and nibbles. It was a wonderful evening under the Toronto spring skies.

InthegardenAt some point in time, Stuart ask everyone to proceed to the living room, much to my dismay, I mean it is spring in Toronto, why would anyone spend time indoors when they can be outside? 🙂

StoneSoupTorontoThe potluck spread was impressive! We started the dinner portion of the evening and by the time I sat down at the table you could hardly hear yourself think: everyone was engrossed in conversations – pretty much like any dinner party you would be invited to!



Stuart called everyone’s attention to the beginning of the story sharing part of the evening. Sharing a story required one to stand at the head of the table . Standing at the head of the table was a bit un-nerving for some participants but it was a good idea as it changed the dynamics of the room: suddenly you became the story teller and everyone around you the audience. It was interesting to hear the participants stories throughout the evening and see the room get transformed by the story teller one story at a time. The most amazing thing for me to watch and notice was how everyone paid attention to the story teller. The audience’s attention was focused on the storyteller and the story. Very similar to a stage performance – much more informal of course – with a dynamic of engagement with the audience: people nodding, approving, laughing but ultimately completely focused on the story teller.

Seeing the event unfold reminded me that events that seem to flow really well, be unformal and facilitate an intimacy, honesty and generosity that you rarely see are really orchestrated events. The Stone Soup evening was informal but Stuart and Ceda provided an invisible structure that made for an evening that everyone loved. Each of the rituals of the evening helped shape the evening’s experience:

  • (volunteer) storytellers were asked to stand at the head of the table to tell their story. This changed the dynamics of the group and the relationship with everyone. Suddenly you were speaking and everyone was paying attention. The additional “rule” was that anyone can tell a story but no one has to.
  • the invited participants were a mixture of friends and strangers. This was a group that was easy to get along with. Some of the people knew each other and facilitated introductions and inclusion in conversations. There was no ice to break!
  • There was a theme: “first” which could really be interpreted any way one wished, but it guided the story lines of all participants. The theme was provided in advance (in the invitation email) which gives everyone the possibility to prepare a story. I think the theme does a bit more than guide the evening’s stories: it also gives everyone a chance to reflect in advance of the evening and perhaps arrive at the event prepared to be immersed in the theme.
  • There was great food prepared by everyone and ready to share.
  • The first speakers were selected by Stuart. They had volunteered to tell a story ahead of the evening and I believe they did set the tone for the evening. Correction: Stuart simply asked people as they arrived if they had a story to tell, for the ones who did, he asked them if they would be ok with going 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc. A lot more fluid than a direct selection!
  • Dogs were welcome (and spoiled with treats!)

ZazieThe evening’s storytellers came alive while telling their stories and the room shared their excitement. I am looking forward to the next installment as it was a bit of a magical evening where the currency exchanged was attention: undivided attention paid to the story teller. I think I have made new friends. Congrats Ceda and Stuart for bringing Stone Soup to Toronto.

A la prochaine.