Carol Spencer Mitchell was a far cry from a Zionist. The photojournalist whose images appeared in Newsweek and Time spent a decade in the Middle East without ever exploring her Jewish identity. Her memoir only mentions it briefly, and her sympathies lie emphatically on the side of the Palestinian people.
Mitchell had an interesting life, and through her work was able to get close to heads of state like King Hussein and Yasser Arafat, both of whom appeared to have a soft spot for her. Danger Pay, named for the extra bucks she made by venturing into dangerous situations to take pictures, describes some of those encounters, as well as the frustrations of the woman behind the lens.
Mitchell was well aware that what she photographed and the story that accompanied her pictures were two very different entities. She questioned the validity of what she was doing continually in her memoir, frustrated at the extent to which the media manipulates reality until it bears no resemblance to what is really going on. After her untimely death from cancer, Mitchell’s sister Ellen added the final touches to Danger Pay, a book that often rambles in a poetic but nonsensical jumble. Of Jerusalem, for example, Mitchell wrote: “I will befriend the stones, for in their age lies the wisdom of posterity. I will learn from this land, for in its roots dwell the history of men’s battles. I will submit to the strangeness, relying on the sun for warmth and the moon for nourishment.” What?!?
If you can get through the many passages that sound like this, and Mitchell’s clear disdain for Israelis (“always screaming, shoving, and arguing,” she writes), which is quite disconcerting, particularly in light of the fact that she was — vaguely — Jewish herself, there are some interesting moments in Danger Pay. But it’s a difficult read.