Lynsey Addario was the focus of attention Saturday, sandwiched between a photograph of herself being held captive in Libya and a photo she had taken of an Afghan woman enjoying life in a culture that forbids such passion in a female, the tension punctuated at the edge of the frame by the face of a glaring man.
The 1991 Staples High School graduate, a photojournalist for The New York Times, Time magazine and National Geographic, spent two hours telling the story of her work and harrowing experiences to about 125 people at the Westport Arts Center in a panel discussion that marked the beginning of a month-long exhibit of her work, "On the Wire: Veiled Rebellion."
Addario won a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for international reporting, part of a New York Times team, for her photographs in "Talibanistan" in 2008. She is the recipient of numerous other citations for her work, including a 2009 MacArthur Fellowship, or "Genius Grant."
The program was moderated by Helen Klisser During, the arts center's director of visual arts who curated the exhibit.
Addario narrated a slide show of her photographs -- hurrying through the most graphic images -- with dispassionate matter-of-fact descriptions later contrasted by her account of weeping uncontrollably as she shot photos of a woman dying in front of her in Sierra Leone.
There was only one doctor in the province of that West African nation, she said. He was only a five-minute walk away, but he had malaria and the nurses would not bring him to Mama Seesay as she bled to death, she said.
In March 2011, Addario and three other New York Times journalists -- including fellow Staples grad Tyler Hicks -- were captured by the Libyan army as the covered the uprising against then-dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
"Some days you're sort of fearless, weirdly, and some days you're really scared," Addario said. "You sort of trust your gut about what to do. That particular day I had just a horrible feeling all day."
The photographers had lingered too long, Addario said. They were held captive by loyalist forces for six days; all were beaten, especially the men, and she was groped. But she said she felt lucky because most people who were captured in similar circumstances had died.
It has changed her, she said.
"Will I cover combat the way I did? Probably not," she said. "I mean, I still cover war, I still go to war zones, I still go to Afghanistan, but will I go directly into the middle of a gun battle like I did in Libya? I don't know. I'm not sure I would."
Addario and Platt both said they broke into the photo-journalism field without knowing that much about photography. Addario talked her way into a Madonna performance and was fortunate to have another photographer lend her a lens so she could get a decent photograph. Platt went to Albania in 1996 as an independent; the New York newspaper he was working for published some photos. He then got a call from Life magazine, and was on his way.
"Three-quarters of getting a great photo is just knowing how to get into a situation," he said.
The two differed on what to do about the continuing influence of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Addario spoke of a hands-off approach, based on cultural differences. Platt called himself the "resident photojournalism neo-con" and said, "I think we need to be there and do what we can to change that."
"We're not going to be there," Addario said.
During said the photographers' work is helpful.
"These images you are witnessing, recording, documenting it in a non-voyeuristic, non-sensational way, they enable us to have a conversation, very serious conversations," she said. "They could be about the culture, they could be about everything and anything, but if we have an image that can spark debate then hopefully we can make progress."
Addario said the things she has seen keep everything in perspective, that being kidnapped will not stop her.
"I think it's really important for people to see what is happening out of their homes, to see how people suffer," she said. "If there's any way for the international community to help they can help, when they see those images and they see what is happening ... Of course, I am afraid but there is a place in the mind for fear and you just tuck it somewhere and you keep working."
"On the Wire: Veiled Rebellion," photographs by Lynsey Addario, is on display through Feb. 23 at the Westport Arts Center, 51 Riverside Ave. For information, call, 203-222-7070 or visit www.westportartscenter.org