Dan­ger Pay: Mem­oir of a Pho­to­jour­nal­ist in the Mid­dle East, 1984 – 1994

Car­ol Spencer Mitchell; Ellen Spencer Sus­man, ed.
  • Review
By – September 13, 2011

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.

Lau­ren Kramer is a Van­cou­ver-based jour­nal­ist, wife, and moth­er with a life­long pas­sion for lit­er­a­ture. Born in Cape Town, South Africa, she has won awards for her writ­ing and report­ed from many cor­ners of the world. Read more of her work at www​.lau​renkramer​.net.

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