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Shutterbabe

Adventures in Love and War

Shutterbabe
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US$ 11.99
What if the protagonist in that age-old tale—boy goes to war, comes back a man—were a female? Shutterbabe, Deborah Copaken Kogan's remarkable debut, is just that: the story of a twenty-two-year-old girl from Potomac, Maryland, who goes off to photograph wars and comes back, four years and one too many adventures later, a woman.

In 1988, fresh out of Harvard, Kogan moved to Paris with a small backpack, a couple of cameras, the hubris of a superhero, and a strong thirst for danger. She wanted to see what a war would look like when seen from up close, to immerse herself in a world where the gun is God. Naïvely, she figured it would be easy to filter death through the prism of her wide-angle lens.
        
She was dead wrong.

Within weeks of arriving in Paris, after knocking on countless photo agency doors and begging to be sent where the action was, Kogan found herself on the back of a truck in Afghanistan, her tiny frame veiled from head to toe, the only woman — and the only journalis — in a convoy of rebel freedom fighters. Kogan had not actually planned on shooting the Afghan war alone. However, the beguiling French photographer she'd entrusted with both her itinerary and her heart turned out to be as dangerously unpredictable as, well, a war.

It is the saga of both her relationship with this French-man and her assignment in Afghanistan that fuels the first of Shutterbabe's six page-turning chapters, each covering a different corner of the globe and each ultimately linked to the man Kogan was involved with at the time. From Zim-babwe to Romania, from Russia to Haiti, Kogan takes her readers on a heartbreaking yet surprisingly hilarious journey through a mine-strewn decade, her personal battles against sexism, battery, and even rape blending seamlessly with the historical struggles of war, revolution, and unfathomable abuse it was her job to record.

In the end, what was once adventurous to the girl began to weigh heavily on the woman. Though her photographs were often splashed across the front pages of international newspapers and magazines, though she was finally accepted into photojournalism's macho fraternity, with each new assignment, with each new affair, Kogan began to feel there was something more she was after. Ultimately, what she discovered in herself was a person -- a woman — for whom life, not death, is the one true adventure to be cherished above all.
Random House Publishing Group; March 2001
316 pages; ISBN 9780375506550
Download in secure PDF format
Excerpt
THERE'S A WAR GOING ON, AND I'M BLEEDING.

An unfortunate situation, to be sure, but considering it's 2 a.m., fresh snow is falling and I'm squished in the back of an old army truck with a band of Afghani freedom fighters who, to avoid being bombed by the Soviet planes circling above, have decided to drive without headlights through the Hindu Kush Mountains over unpaved icy roads laced with land mines, it's also one without obvious remedy. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Ask the driver to pull over for a sec so I can squat behind the nearest snowbank to change my tampon?

I don't think so.

It's February 1989. I am twenty-two years old. My toes are so cold, they're not so much mine anymore as they are tiny miscreants inside my hiking boots, refusing to obey orders. In my lap, hopping atop my thighs as the truck lurches, as my body shivers, sits a sturdy canvas Domke bag filled with Nikons and Kodachrome film, which I'm hoping to use to photograph the pullout of the Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

Actually, I have no idea how to photograph a Soviet pullout. Though this is my second story as a professional photojournalist, I'm still not clear on what it is photojournalists actually do in a real war.

The first story I covered, the intifadah, was more straightforward. Organized, even. I'd take the bus early every morning from my youth hostel in Jerusalem to the nearby American Colony Hotel, where all the other journalists were staying (and where I eventually wound up staying when my clothes were stolen from the youth hostel), and I'd go straight to the restaurant off the lobby. There, I'd ingratiate myself with any photographer I could find who had information about the day's planned demos, his own rental car, and a basket of leftover Danish.

After eating, we'd drive around the West Bank and wait for the Palestinian kids to throw rocks at Israeli soldiers, which we knew they would do only once a critical mass of journalists had assembled. Then we'd record the resulting skirmishes onto rolls of color slide film while trying to evade arrest and/or seizure of our exposed films by the soldiers. Next, we'd all rush back to Jerusalem to the Beit Agron, the Israeli press office, where we would lie about what we'd just shot ("religious Jews," we'd say, or "landscapes,") and get our government-issued shipping forms stamped and signed accordingly. Finally, we'd head to the strange little cargo office at the airport in Tel Aviv to send our film on a plane back to our photo agencies in Paris. Simple.

But here in Afghanistan the situation is more obscure. I'm alone, for one, which among other things means I have no one to help me figure out basic puzzles like how to get my exposed film out of the mountains. Or how to write captions when no one around me speaks English, and I have no idea where, exactly, these photos are being taken or what it is I'm actually seeing. I'm just assuming that at some point, someplace, I will see some dead or bloody mujahed, or some dead or bloody Russian soldier, or some mujahed firing off his Kalashnikovs, or one of those great big Soviet tanks whose names I can never remember, or, well, something that looks vaguely warlike that I can shoot and send–again, it's murky to me exactly how—back to my photo agency in Paris.

I look over at Hashim, who's rearranging blankets, knapsacks and boxes of ammunition to clear more leg room on the crowded truck bed. He yanks my maroon nylon backpack from the center of the pile, fills in the newly empty space with a green metal box, mimes "Can I sit on this?" while pointing at my backpack, and, when I nod yes, he wedges it into a corner and plops his 180-pound rump right on top of it. A gentle crunching sound ensues, followed almost immediately by the smell of rubbing alcohol. Shit. My mind races to try to recall what else, besides the bottle of alcohol, I packed in that outside zippered pocket.

Then I remember. My box of Tampax. My one and only box of Tampax.

Well, now. I'm fucked.

Oblivious, Hashim slowly inhales a Winston cigarette and kneads his amber worry beads through his ragged fingers. Trained as a journalist, he's the one Afghani among my forty-seven escorts who actually speaks a few key English phrases such as "Food soon," "Danger, stay in cave," and "Toilet time, Miss Deborah?" But even though I know he will probably understand me if I say, "Please get off my bag," he definitely won't understand "because my tampons are exploding." And because "Please get off my bag" sounds sort of rude, and because the squishy backpack does look like a comfy place to sit while all of us are scrunched together on the back of this rickety old truck heading God knows where, and because my hygiene woes do not hold a candle to the miseries of jihad, I say nothing. Besides, I'm covered from head to toe in an electric-blue burka–an Islamic veil, worn like a Halloween ghost costume–which tends to hinder communication. Not only does it muffle my speech, it makes it impossible to guess, for example, that underneath all this rayon, under my shiny blue ghost costume, I cannot stop crying.

What on earth possessed me to come here?

In a word, Pascal. It's Pascal's fault I'm here all alone, and when I get back to Pakistan I'm going to kill him.


From the Hardcover edition.