Sometimes the bravery of other women astounds me. Perhaps because I am a huge scaredy cat.
A while back I reviewed Deborah Copaken Kogan's novel Between Here and April, and while I basically liked it, there were a few elements that rubbed me the wrong way. In the comments for that review, however, a friend of mine we'll call Minnesota Sarah (hi up there!) reminded me that Kogan has also written the memoir Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War, which I promptly went and got from the library.
Now, how anyone decides they WANT to go to war zones and take photographs among largely hostile crowds has always baffled me. But when a woman does it? Then I'm really stymied. For one thing, I'd say I personally place a pretty high value on my own safety. I'm a big believer in hoping to minimize trouble by not going out to look for it. This must be a trait that Kogan has never had, because the book opens with her traveling with a bunch of Afghani fighters in Afghanistan--by herself. Holy crap. Other chapters detail her experiences covering wars in Zimbabwe and snapping pictures in Romanian orphanages (photos are included throughout the book), and unless you have a high capacity to read about human suffering, I wouldn't say this is the book for you. She also, of course, dishes on the personal details of being a globetrotting photography correspondent, including a (what seemed to me) somewhat unhappy affair with another photographer.
But I digress. This is one gutsy woman. Consider her photography thesis project for college:
"[My] thesis was called 'Shooting Back,' and it was a series of photos of men who had accosted me in various red-light districts up and down the Eastern seaboard. New York's Forty-second Street. Boston's Combat Zone. South Philly. The whole project evolved as a sort of radical form of self-therapy after I'd fallen victim to a number of armed robberies (two) and assaults (four). It was the equivalent of an acrophobe tackling Mount Everest, or an agoraphobe facing down the mall at Christmas: I was a bad-guy-o-phobe, hanging out in the belly of the beast.
I'd troll the seedy streets outside the strip clubs and the porno shops and wait for the inevitable comment, which ran the gamut from 'Hey, baby, wanna get it on?' to 'Suck my dick, bitch.' To every proposition I would quickly and confidently reply, 'No, thank you, but I would like to shoot your photo.' This retort and the presence of my camera changed the entire dynamic of the encounter. My clunky old Nikkormat became my weapon, turning hunter into prey, and as I held my wide-angle 28-millimeter lens mere inches from these men's faces, distoring their images, I felt the universe tipping for a moment in my favor." (p. 44.)
I ask you: who does that? I stand in awe of the gutsiness of other women.