My Best Shot
Lynsey Addario recalls capturing a harrowing moment in Afghanistan
23 October, 2007
Afghanistan “This is an image of four soldiers attached to the 173rd Airborne, Battle Company, carrying the body of Sergeant Rougle through
Nikon D2xs the Abas Ghar ridgeline, about an hour after we were ambushed by the Taliban,” explains Pulitzer Prizewinning photojournalist Lynsey Addario. “Three members of the Scout team were shot at almost point-blank range, and Rougle was killed. As a photographer who has covered war for 15 years, I still find it difficult to capture the drama of combat, and the toll of war.
“Along with a reporter, I had spent almost two months living with Battle Company. When we first arrived, it was pretty clear the soldiers were dubious about our presence there (we were two women), and doubted whether we’d be able to keep up with their rigorous patrols, but by the end of the embed, we had gained their trust.
“The embed culminated in a week-long Battalion-wide mission, called Operation Rock Avalanche, where we were airlifted into a den of the country’s insurgency, and went looking for Taliban and weapons. We walked for days through the mountains with our belongings on our back alongside the troops, slept in ditches, documenting first-hand what life was like for US troops along the frontline. But nothing symbolised the cost of war more than a life lost.
“When Rougle was killed, I didn’t know whether I would have been permitted to photograph had I not spent so much time with the troops; the death of a soldier is arguably the most sensitive, emotional time for troops in battle. But as they approached, carrying Rougle’s body in a body bag, and I asked permission to photograph, they consented. We were all weeping. Being able to document that intimate moment was a privilege on many levels – most importantly, because I was able to capture the brotherhood, and the tragic loss of life.”
“I don’t know how the public responded to this image when it was first published. I think it has gained recognition over time. If I could take this shot again, I probably would have pushed more forward, directly to the location where the Scout team was ambushed. I was rattled, though, and when I came upon the first wounded soldier being tended to, I chose to stay with them, and accompany them to the medevac helicopter.
“In a delicate situation such as this, it is less about the camera than the approach. You need to ensure the settings are fixed for light/speed ahead of time so you can focus on the moment. Beyond this, it is important to be respectful, to understand that a camera is not always welcome, to ask permission, and to be cognisant of the fact that someone’s friend, brother, son, or husband has just lost his life.”