Destination: The front lines

An ex-photojournalist's memoir of sex, violence, and maternal instincts.

THE MOST UNSETTLING moment in Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War—Deborah Copaken Kogan's eloquent and engaging memoir of her stint as a photojournalist from 1988 to 1992—arrives not when the author, menstruating and tamponless, suffers from amoebic dysentery while accompanying an all-male pack of freedom fighters into the mountains of Afghanistan. Nor when she walks in on two angry junkies rifling through her seedy Zurich hotel room. Nor even when, alone on a makeshift airstrip in the Zimbabwe wilderness, she hears the roar of a nearby lion. No, the most disturbing passage comes when Kogan stumbles upon a group of infants at the Hospital for Unrecoverables, an orphanage in post- communist Romania, where she must calm her anguish and deftly wield her camera. She opens a door to find

. . . crammed together into a single crib, on a blanket sodden with their own urine and feces, . . . five listless toddlers. They range in age from perhaps one to four years old. Two have no legs. Another looks like he (or is it a she?) has cerebral palsy. One has drool running down his chin, and the fifth one seems mentally retarded. When the children notice us standing over their crib, they flap their hands expectantly, five little baby birds, patiently waiting in their soiled nest for the return of a phantom mother.

Shutterbabe: Adventures in Love and War

by Deborah Copaken Kogan (Villard, $24.95)

Playing Mommy is the last activity on this Harvard grad's mind when she first moves to Paris and steps inside the "macho clubhouse of photojournalism." In the tradition of Hemingway, Kogan's got a lust for her art, adventure, and members of the opposite sex—whom she uses to pace her memoir, framing each chapter around her beau of the moment, and whom she admittedly collects like photographs: "I could never choose a single photo, from all the images I'd ever shot, to hang on my wall at the expense of all others. So why should I be expected to choose a single man to share my bed for eternity?"

WORKING IN A low-paying, ruthlessly competitive field, Kogan learns just how important a decent photograph can be—in regards to both her bank account and her job prospects—and her early ideal of using photography to document, and thus ease, suffering becomes tainted by opportunism. She identifies with the "war-besotted journalist" who's "hooked on fresh blood and the high of survival, on the headlines, the deadlines, and the steamy apr賠deadlines . . . stuck in a state of adolescence, justifying every puerile action under the clever guise of contributing to a noble cause." She also buys a heroin addict orange juice so he'll allow her to shoot him shooting up and half hopes, while covering a conflict between African game wardens and poachers, that the wardens will kill someone soon. After all, "There's no story without a dead poacher."

Kogan's no legendary photojournalist—she quit the field to produce network news shows, like NBC's Dateline, for a few years, then dropped journalism altogether to raise her son and daughter. Kogan's credentials aside, Shutterbabe's a major improvement upon most career memoirs. While so many manipulate autobiography to write fleshed-out r鳵m鳬 laminated by name-dropping and awards, Kogan uses memoir to tell her incredible experiences in a grim yet miraculous world. She doesn't gloss over her naﶥt頯r her selfishness, thus making her insights all the more trenchant. And even though Kogan changes from a hot-headed, nation- and bed-hopping feminist and atheist to a New York-bound wife, mother, and agnostic who aspires to be one of those people "gliding up and down Broadway every evening pushing grocery-laden strollers," what remains true and admirable throughout the book is the author's obstacle-bounding determination.

dmassengill@seattleweekly.com

 
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