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Stop Sign: Defining a Photojournalist's Role

Lynsey Addario photo of two women in burqas on the side of a road in Afganistan

© Lynsey Addario

The story Veiled Rebellion, with Lynsey Addario's photographs, appeared in the December, 2010, issue of National Geographic magazine. D700, AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED, 1/1250 second, f/5.6, ISO 125, manual exposure, Matrix metering.

By definition the job of the photojournalist is to tell a story. But what happens when a photojournalist's actions change the story?

"I was shooting for a National Geographic story on women in Afghanistan," says Lynsey Addario, "and one major part of the story was about maternal mortality. Afghanistan had one of the highest rates of women dying in childbirth in the world at that time."

For about two weeks Lynsey covered remote areas in the province of Badakhshan. "The limited network of roads was one of the reasons women die in childbirth," she says. "When a woman goes into labor she has to get on a donkey and ride for hours to get to a medical center."

On the way back to the province capital of Fayzabad, Lynsey and her translator, Dr. Zeba, saw two women on the side of the road. "They were unaccompanied, which in Afghanistan is very rare because all women have to be accompanied by men. We stopped the car, and it turned out the woman on the right, Noor Nisa, was in labor; the other woman was her mother."

Lynsey and Dr. Zeba learned that Noor Nisa's husband's first wife had died in childbirth, and he was so determined to not lose Noor Nisa that he'd borrowed a car and was trying to get her to the hospital. But the car had broken down, and he'd gone to try to find another one. "I wanted to take them to the hospital," Lynsey says, "but they couldn't get in my car because they needed permission from her husband. So I asked Dr. Zeba to take the car and find him. There was only one road going through the province; it wouldn't be hard."

When Dr. Zeba found him and brought him back, Lynsey took the family to the hospital, where Noor Nisa delivered her baby.

At the hospital Lynsey photographed other women, including one who was giving birth, but she made no pictures of Noor Nisa. "The only reason she made it to the hospital was because I took her, and I felt I changed the story with my presence."

The photograph taken at the side of the road was all that was needed, and by Lynsey's standards, all that was proper, to tell this story.