- Photographer Lynsey Addario has been covering the military for over 20 years.
- She took photos of women in militaries around the world for National Geographic.
- She says, in her experience, most women in the military want to be seen as fighters, not women, but maintain their femininity in subtle ways.
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There are more women in the US military now than there have ever been before. With women’s increasing participation and leadership come new opportunities to share their stories from the front lines.
Photographer Lynsey Addario has been covering the military for over 20 years. For her latest photo series in National Geographic’s November 2019 issue, she followed women in different militaries around the world, capturing intimate portraits of their training and everyday life.
Lynsey Addario took photos of women in different militaries around the world for the November 2019 issue of National Geographic.
Addario has been photographing the military for more than 20 years. For this National Geographic series, she focused on women’s experiences in the armed forces.
“It was a story that I pitched a long time ago, but it never came together until this issue that National Geographic did that was shot by women, produced by women, and written by women,” she said.
She followed Marines-in-training at Parris Island in South Carolina as they completed their final test: a 54-hour marathon known as “the Crucible.”
Addario enjoyed shooting pictures at Parris Island both because of the setting’s gorgeous lighting and the opportunity to capture the soldiers’ transformations.
“The women are so young and they’re really transitioning from civilian to Marine, and I like seeing that on their faces,” she said. “I think that’s fascinating not only visually but psychologically, how training and years of war and every aspect of women on the front lines really reveals something different in people.”
Addario was inspired by the women’s grit through the difficult challenge.
“The women are exhausted – they’ve been running on nothing,” she said. “For me, it was really inspiring to see, and it was exciting because everything they’ve been training for for the previous 11 weeks culminates with that. They just have to get through the 54-hour period.”
She also captured less grandiose moments, such as a soldier being disciplined for slouching.
“That moment is right out of a movie for me,” she said. “Across the board, when you join the military, you have to conform to the rules.”
One of Addario’s most talked-about photos shows a female Marine carrying her male counterpart.
“I love that moment because she’s so tough,” she said. “It really speaks to one of the things that the Marine commanders often cite as a reason to not have women on the front lines – that if a male Marine was wounded, a woman couldn’t carry them out of battle. Obviously, that photo counters that very directly.”
Addario also photographed women in the ELN, Colombia’s National Liberation Front.
“With the ELN, they wanted to fight for the injustices of the poor and minorities in Colombia,” she said. “There were different reasons with different groups of women, but overall most of the women fighters ironically didn’t want to be seen as women, they just wanted to be seen as fighters.”
When ELN fighters went to the river to wash their clothes, Addario captured a small symbol of traditional femininity amid the tough conditions — a pink, lacy bra.
“I just loved seeing that fuchsia bra underneath her camisole because it reminds me that as much as women on the front lines try to say, ‘I’m not a woman, I’m a fighter, I’m as tough as men,’ there’s always that moment that reveals some women want to maintain that femininity, whether it’s something hidden or whether it’s something for themselves,” she said.
She hopes that the photo series helps raise awareness about powerful women in the military.
- National Geographic
“I think people are surprised to see women on the front lines in so many places,” Addario said. “Around the world, there are women fighting in different arenas. I hope that’s a little surprising to the reader, and that they learn a little bit about what women are doing and how tough they are.”
For more on this story, visit National Geographic.