A daring pioneer
At a time when women’s liberation movements were still emerging, Catherine Leroy, a small woman — barely 40kgs/85lbs. at 1.50m/4’10” — born into a conservative Catholic bourgeois milieu, broke through many professional barriers.
She was the only non-military photographer and only woman to make a parachute jump in combat with United States forces in Vietnam.
She was the first foreign woman to win America’s prestigious George Polk Award in the news photography category that honours “intrepid journalism” for her 1967 coverage of the Battle of Hill 881 during the Vietnam War.
She was the first woman to receive the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club of America for “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise,” awarded for her coverage of the civil war in Lebanon in 1976.
A legendary photographer
In the 1960s and ‘70s, the indeed intrepid young French woman chose to travel the world to photograph the major conflicts of her day, from Vietnam to Africa, to the Middle East. In February 1966, she flew from Paris to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and onto Saigon with a one-way ticket and a brand new Leica camera on her shoulder. She was only twenty-one.
During the three years she spent in Vietnam working as a freelance photographer, she found herself in constant danger and in 1967 was gravely wounded in battle near Con Thien. A year later, she was taken prisoner during the all-out Têt Offensive by North-Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam.
Her dogged determination and empathetic vision for soldiers and civilians alike allowed her to produce raw and powerful pictures that were published on the pages of the world’s most prominent magazines. Embedded with the US Marines in Vietnam, she would accompany them on countless operations. Sharing their everyday life in the heat and mud of the jungle, she produced extraordinary photographic coverages showing their daily lives and the violence, pain and heroism of battle.
Leroy trail-blazed the path for women photographers working today in conflict zones around the globe such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, the Sudan, Burma and Syria.