Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War

Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War

4.5 31
by Deborah Copaken Kogan

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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…  See more details below


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.

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Editorial Reviews
The Barnes & Noble Review
Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War is a fascinating coming-of-age memoir about former photojournalist Deborah Copaken Kogan's extraordinary experiences in some of the most dangerous, war-torn regions of the world. Born in the late '60s, Kogan grew up in the post-feminist era, firmly believing that she could pursue any career she wanted to. When she discovered the power and the thrill of photography as a high-spirited, intelligent undergrad at Harvard, she knew that she had found her calling; photojournalism promised the right balance of adrenaline-filled adventure and, idealistic though it may be, humanitarian effort. So, shortly after graduation, she set out in search of a war -- any war -- to expose the evils of the world, and soon she found herself on a bus with a group of Afghani freedom fighters during the pullout of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989.

And that is where Kogan's story begins. By book's end, she has documented a heroin epidemic in Switzerland, a racially charged conflict over rhino preservation in Zimbabwe, a distressingly inadequate orphanage in Romania, and -- the experience Kogan now remembers as the most frightening of all -- the violent demonstrations in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union. As she watches these events through the viewfinder of her camera, she witnesses a multitude of atrocities that profoundly affect both her inner character and her view of the world. Her descriptions of these experiences are full of compassion, youthful naïvité, and horrified disbelief.

But, despite the unorthodox nature of her job, there is an aspect of Kogan's professional life to which many working women will relate. At 5'-2", she is a far cry from the typical cowboy photojournalist, and professionally, she suffers a fair amount of harassment. Both in the offices of her photo agency and out in the field, many of Kogan's colleagues view her with suspicion. But as her story progresses through countries and conflicts, Kogan successfully surmounts these sexist obstacles, eventually earning the respect of her fellow photographers and proving that women can make outstanding photojournalists. Along the way, she matures as a person, and her stories become both increasingly poignant and enthralling.

And that's only half the story, for among the Swiss drug addicts and Romanian orphans Kogan also searches for a very different element of human nature: love. Each chapter of Shutterbabe covers not only a specific photo assignment but also a different man in her life, and her romantic escapades are just as exciting and potentially dangerous as the violent warfare she captures on film. From mean-spirited Pascal, who beats her with a telephone, to sweet but sad Doru, who carries Romania's burdens on his shoulders, Kogan's love life is turbulent and sexy, adding to the adventure. When she finally meets her future husband, her descriptions of their time together are touching, tender, and all the more meaningful after the slew of unsuitable Romeos who came before him.

By the final chapter, after a number of difficult decisions about the relative importance of career versus family (another dilemma that is sure to draw empathy from many working women), Kogan has demonstrated that, although the turf may be different, the search for love is often filled with as many minefields as war. Ultimately, her experiences in both types of battle make Kogan an inspirational role model for women and make Shutterbabe a thoroughly riveting read. (Stephanie Bowe)

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Random House Publishing Group
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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.

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What People are saying about this

John Hockenberry
A candid, sexy, and very funny romp that makes photojournalism seem like an X-treme sport. Deborah Copaken Kogan goes out and wrings enough terrifying heroics from the last bits of the twentieth century to make T.E. Lawrence jealous.
—John Hockenberry, author of Moving Violations and A River Out of Eden
From the Publisher
Shutterbabe zooms in on passionate self-discovery.”
USA Today

“Eloquent and well observed, not only about the memoirist, but about the world: war, death, photojournalism and, of course, the worldwide battle between the sexes.”
The Washington Post Book World

“A candid account of one woman’s attempt to claim the spoils of the American feminist revolution under trying circumstances: alone, abroad, practicing an art that fosters machismo and thrusts her into the midst of the most paternalistic cultures in the world.”
Chicago Tribune

Shutterbabe, like all good war stories, is flashy and exciting, but it also tells the story of a tender-hearted woman who traded war’s excitement for that of family life.”
The New York Times Book Review

John Burnham Schwartz
A wise and unforgettable book, written with courage and love and intelligence and humility and humor, by a remarkable woman who, through hard searching and a compassionate heart, has found all the right words with which to tell her extraordinary life.
—John Burnham Schwartz, author of Reservation Road

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Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am impressed by this woman and her life, and really looking forward to more books by her. I was able to vicariously become her as she faced situations that astound me, sitting in my safe little world. She is a brave warrior and really seems to know and understand exactly who she is and why she makes the choices she does and has.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was enthralled by this book. This woman has lead a thrilling life, and I felt inspired by having read the account. Well - written, as well as a glimpse into the journalist world - definitely a must read for journalism students.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading the many humorous and touching stories Deborah Copake Kogan has to offer I found this book like no other Biography, Deborah really tells her life and her experiences how it was with no exceptions. The book starts out with her in her college years in Harvard, not knowing what to do with her life in tell she finds the power of Photography. So after graduating she sets of to Europe to find the perfect touch of war and herself. After reaching their she finds herself in a bus with a group of Afghani freedom fighters in Afghanistan, 1989. Once she reaches camp and finds the truth about war, her life will never be the same, She finds people lying died in the middle of the street and she can¿t sleep because troops are coming to get them. This was the way Deborah lived her life for 4 years, seeing and fighting for terrible things. But its not all bad, she finds Love with this and every turn of the page brings a new beginning with a new guy from Pascal to the man she ends up getting engaged to, its all but a breath taking story. I would defiantly recommend this book to anyone that loves a great cuddle up with yet a touch of adventure, Its truly touching and amazing all in one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Everyone must read this book. I truly felt like I knew the author. Loved how she attached her photos in the book because it connected the reader with the story. I was so sad when the book was coming to an end because I just wanted to read more and more!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Heartbreaking book with comic relief. Shows you life behind the camera
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a photographer and a woman, I thank Deborah for sharing this. It has changed me, inspired me and gotten into my soul. Thank you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I honestly couldn't put it down. An amazing story of a woman in photography. A must read for any photography enthusiast!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book. She led quite a life when she was younger and has accumulated really amazing stories which she tells very well. You can also see her mature through the book. At first there is very little reflection on her part, and she gives you very little about the broader and deeper meanings and connections of the amazing things she has witnessed and taken part in. You do get the sense at times that she zips into these amazing situations, snaps her pictures, has her incredible adventures and then she zips out, and you don't get a sense of knowing what happened to the people she saw. You get pictures you can put in a scrap book but not a deeper understanding of the story around the picture. By the end of the book, however, you do get to understand the author better, although still not very much about the external world she sees. But she is a good writer and I expect her writing will improve with maturity. --One thing I really liked about the book is that, since I knew she wrote it, I knew she survived all these things that had happened to her. I was cheering for her all the way and by the end of the book, I felt I really liked her.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Shutterbabe is a quick and easy read. The prose is light and crisp--just right for those marathon sessions when you want to burn through a book in a day and a half. With considerable doses of bullets, blood and sex, 'Shutterbabe' is more exciting than enlightening. A page turner as Kogan relives her fast-paced life as a globe-trotting photojournalist and recommended for 20-somethings struggling to make the right early-career choices.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was easily the best book i've read all year! The experiences documented in Shutterbabe are so incredibly emotional and thought provoking. The book is written so that by the end, I felt very close to Ms. Kogan. I strongly recommend this book to everyone! A fantastic read that stimulates your every emotion.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Could not put this down- exciting, emotional, sentimental... recommend this to anyone- you'll most likely finish it in a couple of days- it's just that good!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is awesome. A must read for any type of man or women. This book has something in it for everyone to relate to and be touched by. This is one of the first true-life stories that has left me breathless and stunned. Not only is it touching, it is adventurous and gripping. A must read for anyone.... I'm serious, buy this book right now!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Shutterbabe' is the kind of book that inspires you to follow your dreams but at the same time (because it is a memoir) be jealous that your dreams have already been experienced by someone. However, I'm not complaining because by reading 'Shutterbabe' I got to vicariously experience all of Copaken's adventures. Copaken has not only lived an adventure-filled life but she's a good writer, too. I read this book extremely quickly & when I got to the end of it, I wished there was more to read. Another thing I liked about the book is the fact that Copaken is a feminist. Men were always trying to take advantage of her or sexually harass her or order her around, but she didn't put up with it. She was also very honest about writing about an abortion that she had and a time that she was raped. I commend her for writing about those things because it must be difficult for the entire reading public to know all those private things. I recommend anyone who likes travel, good stories, feminism, or photography to read this outstanding book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of book that makes you want to run out and accomplish all that you've been putting on hold. It's extremely inspirational and very gripping. From Milan to New York, I couldn't put it down. A definite must read!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Who would allows themselves to be dropped in the middle of nowhere, with the roar of wild animals in the background? Having no idea where are which way to go! Or watch an autopsy of a Romanian child who is then thrown into a gunnysack when it is complete? I am amazed at the life Deborah has lived and how she followed a dream that so few of us would give up our SUV's and comfortable homes for. Through every type of adversity, she seemed to find a funny story to relate to the reader. Being a serious amateur photographer, I found her book engrossing and she took a bit of the glamour off the career of a photojournalist, yet showed us just how human each one of them are. This is a must read book. It is not a page turner, but a page burner....great job Deborah!