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Her life

A legendary photographer

In the 1960s and ‘70s, an intrepid young Frenchwoman named Catherine Leroy chose to travel the world to photograph the major conflicts of her day, from Vietnam to the Middle East. In February 1966, she flew from Paris to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and on to 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, she found herself in constant danger and was seriously wounded in battle. In 1968, 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.

A daring pioneer

Among many other accomplishments, Leroy was the only non-military photographer and the 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 1967 news photography category that honored “intrepid journalism.” Leroy was also the first woman to receive the prestigious Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club for “best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise,” awarded for her coverage of the civil war in Lebanon in 1976.

At a time when women’s liberation movements were still emerging, this small woman (barely 40kgs/85lbs. at 1.50m/4’10”), born into a conservative Catholic bourgeois milieu, broke through many barriers.

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 coverage showing their daily lives and the violence and heroism of battle, and trail-blazed the path for women working in conflict zones around the globe today, such as Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and the Sudan.