Women Combat Photographers

This series presents four female combat photographers that have not garnered the attention they deserve. Two died in the pursuit of their craft.

Dickey Chapelle – the first American female combat photographer to die in action.

Catherine Leroy- first female combat photographer to parachute with the Marines in Vietnam

Lee Miller – started out as a model and then became famous for covering WWII.

Gerda Taro – credited with pushing Robert Caps to fame. She was the first female combat photographer to die in action.

Dickey Chapelle

Dickey’s favorite photo of herself.

Dickey Chapelle reported on wars around the world, including the World War II battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and witnessed the reconstruction of post–World War II Europe. She worked in Hungary, India, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Algeria, Lebanon, Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. She was imprisoned in Hungary, accompanied Fidel Castro into the jungles of Cuba, and was smuggled into Algeria by rebels who asked her to tell their side of the story in the war with France. She made numerous parachute jumps into Korea, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic.” from “Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action” by John Garofolo

However before she was Dickey Chapelle she was Georgette Louise Meyer from Wisconsin. Apparently enamored with Admiral Byrd who’s nickname was Dickey, Georgette took to calling herself Dickey. During WWII she took photography lessons from a Mr. Tony Chapelle who did publicity for TWA. They married despite a 20 year difference in age; Tony being older. So from that point on the world knew her as Dickey Chapelle.

The Happy Marine

During her stint as a photojournalist in WWII she disobeyed an order to stay in a non-combat zone and went forward. This lost her credentials. She had impressed a Marine officer so much that 10 years later when she wanted to resume being “imbedded” in a unit he was happy to get her credentials back to her. While waiting for this opportunity she was busy in every war zone that she could find

“Dickey was now known to rebel leaders around the world. During the 1957 Algerian war against France, rebellion leaders from the Algerian Federation of National Liberation smuggled her into Algeria so she could help them tell the world their side of the story. Dickey photographed the war from the rebels’ point of view and observed the trial and execution of a young Algerian traitor. When Dickey asked the Algerians why they had chosen her, she was told that no one else would go.” from “Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action” by John Garofolo

Dickey – Dickey Chapelle, left with a Cuban rebel was taken by a Cuban youth with one of Chapelle’s cameras. The rebel is Maj. Antonio Lusson, commander of the battalion that captured La Maya. Journal Sentinel file photo1959

“Dickey arrived in Vietnam in 1961 with an assignment from Reader’s Digest to cover US advisors in Vietnam and Laos in the still-early stage of the war. She was forty-two years old, an age at which most military veterans were no longer actively fighting wars.” from “Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action” by John Garofolo

Once again Dickey got herself assigned to the marines who just thought of her as a conflict photographer not as a female reporter. Chapelle was killed in Vietnam on November 4, 1965 while on patrol with a Marine platoon during Operation Black Ferret, a search and destroy operation 16 km south of Chu Lai, Quang Ngai Province, I Corps. The lieutenant in front of her kicked a tripwire boobytrap, consisting of a mortar shell with a hand grenade attached to the top of it. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel which severed her carotid artery, and she died soon afterwards. Her last moments were captured in a photograph by Henri Huet.[5] Her body was repatriated with an honor guard consisting of six Marines, and she was given full Marine burial. She became the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action.

““Good correspondents are created out of the simple compulsion to go see for themselves what is happening . . . ,” Dickey wrote in her autobiography. “Other people have other missions—they can fight or halt or persuade or negotiate or barter or build or write symphonies. You may be free to do all those things or none, but what matters is that you keep your eyes open. If you call yourself a correspondent, your reason for being is first to see. “And then, of course, to tell.”” from “Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action” by John Garofolo

While researching for this article I got sidetracked reading another book about the horrors of any war but particularly the Vietnam conflict. I highly recommend Tim O’Brien’s THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

Catherine Leroy

Born outside Paris in 1944, Leroy displayed her taste for the adrenaline rush when she obtained her parachute license at age 18 to impress her then-boyfriend. Carrying $200 and a Leica M2 she made her way to Vietnam in 1966. Her meeting with Horst Faas was the break she needed as she was able to become embedded with the marine. He license to jump out of planes made access to the battles possible.

She was injured and almost died had it not been for the protection afford her by one of her cameras. She spent 6 weeks recuperating in a hospital; she returned to her unit after that. She and another Frenchman were captured by the Viet Cong but after it was clear to the commander that they could get their story out thru photos and print, they were allowed interviews and then released. This adventure ganered them the cover of LIFE

“When you look at war photographs,” Leroy says in her thick French accent, “it’s a silent moment of eternity. But for me, it is haunted by sound, a deafening sound.” For her, the soldier with the cigarette triggers a memory of sudden fire, men screaming, the sensation of crawling forward on her elbows to a man who had been walking just a few feet ahead. “In Vietnam, most of the time it was extremely boring. Exhausting and boring. You walked for miles through rice paddies or jungle — walking, crawling, in the most unbearable circumstances. And nothing was happening. And then suddenly all hell would break loose.”


After her stint in Vietnam, Leroy went onto to cover other conflicts including Northern Ireland, Cyprus and Lebanon. She in fact won the 1976 Robert Capa Photojournalism award. In later years she settled in Los Angeles and succumb to cancer at the young age of 60.

Photographer Catherine Leroy about to jump with the 173rd Airborne during operation “Junction City”, Vietnam, 1967 Photograph taken by a GI and sent recently to Catherine Leroy

Photo shot while Leroy was jumping


LA Times

Catherine Leroy Website

LA Art Circle 1950-60

At certain points and at certain times there is a coalescence of a critical mass of artistic talent. This is the case with LA and art in the late 1950s. LA was considered a backwater of arts culture – certainly when compared to the New York arts scene. The LA epicenter was the Ferus Gallery started by Walter Hopps, Edward Kienholz and Bob Alexander. Ed Ruscha was one of the prominent artists at the gallery. He was a photographer as well as a conceptual artist.

Ed Ruscha as photographed by Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper the actor became interested in knowing and collecting the art of these West Coast artists. He was also a photographer in his own right. Let’s look into the photography of Ruscha and Hopper.


More about the LA art scene: at the time there was a controversy as to whether New York or LA discovered Pop Art. Many claim that it was LA. They would opine that the whole atmosphere of LA, billboards screaming to ‘buy me’ spoke to the pop artist of LA. Some say it sprang up de novo simultaneously as a rejection of Abstract Impressionism

What wasn’t in doubt was the inequity in prices being paid for artwork, with New York fetching the big bucks. Was it just the density of collectors or the quality of the work? It would be anyone’s guess. I would put my money on the more mature art market on the East Coast as compared to the burgeoning scene in LA.

Dennis Hopper

Born on a wheat farm in Dodge City, KS in 1936, Hopper eventually moved with his family eventually to San Diego. His life and career is worth reading about. Saying he was the co-writer and director of Easy Rider only begins to scratch the surface of this man’s talents.

My interest in Hopper stems from his involvement in the arts scene in LA in the 50’s and 60’s. He was a collector and supporter; his photography of this era also made him a contributor. His first wife gave him a Nikon and he had it with him whereever he went.

To supply more details to this multifaceted individual, Hopper involved himself in amateur theater once he was in California. He was noticed by Hollywood and was signed. In the 50’s Hollywood would sign a “stable” of young actors to a multi-picture contract. Then every movie that came out had the same group of actors. Hence “Rebel without a Cause” and “Giant” had many of the same actors.

The first rebel was James Dean – with his success there came the feeling that the studios had too much control. This attitude was not lost on Hopper who was close to Dean. With Dean’s untimely death, Hopper was next up to challenge the status quo – and challenge he did!

There aren’t many roller coasters that have more ups and downs than Hopper had in his life. If I had one person I’d love to have dinner with, this is the person.

Ed Ruscha

Born 1937 in Nebraska, Ruscha grew up in Oklahoma before eventually heading to California. His childhood friend Mason Williams of “Classical Gas” did the same thing. Once in Southern California Ed’s art talent defined a whole era. One of the sentinel artists at Ferus Gallery, he became known for modern art with text.

My interest in Ruscha is his photography. Wikipedia on this subject:

Photography has played a crucial role throughout Ruscha’s career, beginning with images he made during a trip to Europe with his mother and brother in 1961, and most memorably as the imagery for more than a dozen books that present precisely what their titles describe. His photographs are straightforward, even deadpan,in their depiction of subjects that are not generally thought of as having aesthetic qualities. His “Products” pictures, for example, feature boxes of Sunmaid raisins and Oxydol detergent and a can of Sherwin Williams turpentine in relatively formal still lifes.  Mostly devoid of human presence, these photographs emphasize the essential form of the structure and its placement within the built environment.  Ruscha’s photographic editions are most often based on his conceptual art-books of same or similar name. Ruscha re-worked the negatives of six of the images from his book Every Building on Sunset Strip. The artist then cut and painted directly on the negatives, resulting in photographs that have the appearance of a faded black-and-white film.  The Tropical Fish series (1974–75) represents the first instance where the photographic image has been directly used in his graphic work, where Ruscha had Gemini G.E.L.‘s house photographer Malcolm Lubliner make photographs of a range of common domestic objects. 

The work that put Ruscha on the map was Actual Size , 1962. This was his announcement of his love for the banal and text in his creations.


Forgotten until I was researching Ruscha was my rendition of this work – 1968 my family was in Southern California and we went to LACMA – Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I snapped this photo in B/W:

Dutifully recording the camera , lens, developer I used. I wished that I would have paid more attention to the framing!


Survival of the Fittest – would pertain to Ruscha as he learned to exhibit and sell on the East Coast and not be insulated. He often said that he could do his art anywhere, many felt that this was not really true.

George Rodgers

Many photography aficionados can name three of the original members of Magnum – Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson and Chim. Most can’t tell you who the fourth member was. This was of course George Rodgers.

Coming from a middle class background, George never had the support of his father and was left to fend for himself. In his 20’s he joined the merchant marines and sailed around the world twice and lived in America for several years before he decided that he should be a photojournalist. This was a new occupation in the 1920’s and 30’s made possible by the advent of the small 35 mm Leica camera. Part of Rodgers’ decision to become one was based on the horrible illustrations that editors would pair with his writing. He decided he could do a much better job illustrating with his own photography.

CHAD. Chari-Baguirmi. N’Djamena (formerly Fort Lamy). Hassau chieftains demonstrate their superb horsemanship in a “Fantasia”. 1941.

Rodgers was eventually able to sign on to the fledgling picture magazine, LIFE. He was assigned WWII coverage literally in all theaters of war. His first four- week assignment turned into an 18-month mega tour of the Middle East, China, Burma and India. He returned to NYC where he was hailed as a hero which he did not feel he deserved. He did however experience PTSD with headaches, nightmares and other manifestations.

Robert Capa and George Rodgers, Italy


Both Capa and Rodgers were tired of having no control over their photos and stories and when they met in Italy their thoughts over a new agency to serve the photojournalist congealed.

“Later in March, Capa went to New York. As he sat in a hotel bar he met the writer John Steinbeck—equally disgruntled—sitting on the next stool. They became fast friends, and Capa persuaded Steinbeck to take him along on a trip to the Soviet Union that the writer was envisioning as the first of its kind since the war. Steinbeck’s idea was to write a first-hand account of the Soviet people, without getting involved in politics. With Capa’s help and contacts, Steinbeck sold the concept to the New York Herald Tribune. But at the end of April, visas obtained and bags packed, Steinbeck fell and broke a kneecap. The trip had to be postponed for six weeks. So it could be said that it was Steinbeck’s kneecap that was the impetus for starting Magnum Photos. Capa was too restless and frustrated to remain idle, and decided the time was ripe to organize the agency he had been talking about since before the war. If he was to remain a photographer, it would be on his own terms.” from “George Rodger: An Adventure in Photography, 1908-1995” by Carole Naggar

So it was that Magnum was formed- the active principles being Capa, Cartier Bresson, Chim ( David Seymour) and Rodgers. For a short time photojournalist William Vandivert was part of the mix along with Maria Eisner. The initiation fee was $500 and the agency held back 40% with the rest and residuals going to the photographer. Each of the principles had a main geographical interest with Chim’s being the Middle East, Rodgers Africa, Cartier Bresson’s was Europe with Capa’s being a roving photographer.

In Carole Naggar’s wonderful book about Rodgers she posits that Chim ( David Seymour) was the least recognized founding member of Magnum. Look for an article on Chim soon.

“Nevertherless, Cartier-Bresson, for one, firmly maintains that Magnum could not have been born without Chim: “The one thanks to whom Magnum was founded was not Capa, not me, not Rodger, but Chim—he is the one who did the bylaws, who gave Magnum its structure “- Carole Naggar

An interesting story in Ms. Naggar’s book told how Leni Reifenstahl (Nazi photographer and apologist) had offered Rodgers $1000 to introduce her to the Nuba tribe. After having photographed the Bergen Belsen concentration camp there was no way he wanted to help her. He politely told her to “bugger off.” One more reason to vilify Reifenstahl.

Female prisoners in the newly liberated Bergen Belsen concentration camp.

Rodgers generally had a dislike for the famous or the celebrity – his first meeting with Ernest Hemingway was just one such instance. He found Hemingway a drunk, boastful and full of it – the complete opposite of himself.

1954 was a disastrous year for Magnum – Robert Capa was killed stepping on a landmine in Indochina and Werner Bischof was killed in a car accident. Chim had to step up to manage things and it wasn’t easy as at the same time more photographers were added to the Magnum roster.

Reference for this article

Road Trip as a Photographic Genre

Photo by Dino Reichmuth on Unsplash

The next several articles will be about “The Road Trip” as a legitimate genre in Photography.

The ‘Road Trip’ is such a quintessential part of the American psyche. I am admittedly ignorant of things European but I don’t think that they lust after the same thing on their continent. Perhaps because they have such great train service no one thinks of the trans-europe experience as such a big deal. Not so in America. This is huge country explored but not settled until the 20th century. The advent of the automobile primarily helped this expansion west. Before World War II the road trip was not glamorous – Think ‘Grapes of Wrath’ depression era travel. After the war with the completion of the American Highway system and later the Interstate, the travel was easier and became an adventurous pursuit. 

The question, “Are you up for a road trip?” has always been answered YES! In the early 60’s we had the TV show, Route 66 which was the epitome of the American Road Trip . So it would come as no surprise that a distinct, photographic genre arose out of this lust for the open road. What follows are but a few examples of photobooks relating to the road trip. Some are not so much about the trip but rather things that are seen on road trips.

So it is with no surprise that many established and no so established photographers have made it a rite of passage to engage in this genre.

The Russian Journal – Robert Capa with John Steinbeck

The Road to Reno – Inge Morath

The Americans – Robert Frank

ILF and Petrov’s American Road Trip

The Americans – Robert Frank’s American Road Trip

The Americans is arguably the best photography book ever published. It is the photographic evidence of a 2 year road trip that Robert Frank took as a Guggenheim fellow in 1955. Often traveling alone or sometimes with his young family, he set out to document this new to him country. He is Swiss and was encouraged by Walker Evans to make such a journey.

Heading our in a 1950 Ford coupe, he ranged to all corners of the compass. His trip was not to photograph the rich, the downtrodden but to capture it all. The first printing of the book was in Europe by Robert Delpire; it included text by Simone de BeauvoirErskine CaldwellWilliam FaulknerHenry Miller and John Steinbeck

The book was eventually picked up by Grove Press in this country, leaving behind the text as it was felt that this would add to the controversy already swirling around the photographs. Many critics at the time felt that the book was poking fun at the United States ( which it was but isn’t that the point of a good photo essay? -my opinion). Others didn’t appreciate that not all photography has to be in focus.

I have not found the exact road map that Frank followed but it is clear to me he achieved his stated goals.

Black and white are the colors of photography. To me they symbolize the alternatives of hope and despair to which mankind is forever subjected. Most of my photographs are of people; they are seen simply, as through the eyes of the man in the street. There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment. This kind of photography is realism. But realism is not enough–there has to be vision, and the two together can make a good photograph. It is difficult to describe this thin line where matter ends and mind begins. – Robert Frank – From pages 20-22 of Aperture, vol. 9, no. 1 (1961)