News & Articles

Eyewitness: Female Photojournalists in Combat

by Literary Apprentice/Fellow Adelina Treviño Bradshaw

Time Stands Still playwright Donald Margulies did not base his character Sarah Goodwin on any one photojournalist. He seems to have been inspired, however, by details from the actual experiences of female photographers in the field. As these brief profiles illustrate, women photojournalists have been in the thick of battle everywhere from Paris, 1944 to Libya, 2011. “naturally i took pictures. What’s a Girl supposed to do When a battle lands in her lap?” —Lee Miller to interviewer Ona Munson, 1946 Lee Miller actually started her photography career in front of the camera as a model in 1920s New York. In the 1930s, Miller moved to Paris where she worked with the Surrealists and began a tumultuous relationship with artist Man Ray. During this time she opened her own studio and started producing her own work. When the war started in 1939, Miller was in London living with her future husband Roland Penrose. She spent the early part of the war documenting the London Blitz and became accredited as a U.S. Army war correspondent. While working for British Vogue in 1944, Miller starting traveling with the Americans advancing into France twenty days after the D-Day invasion. She saw the Liberation of Paris, the fighting in Luxembourg and Alsace and the liberations of the concentration camps Buchenwald and Dachau. When she returned from the war, she covered fashion and celebrities for Vogue for two more years before becoming pregnant and getting married. By 1956, Miller had given up photography and journalism. She packed up her cameras, never to touch them again. She lived the rest of her life on a farm in England with her husband, specializing in gourmet cooking. Her son, Antony Penrose, has been the posthumous champion of her work. “Compassion, that’s the word that comes to me. I think we were all looking to show shat the war did to people—on both sides. Yes, we were very subjective. I don’t think, in a situation like that, you can be anything but subjective.” —Catherine Leroy to the San Francisco Chronicle, 2005 In 1966, at the age of 21, Catherine Leroy bought a one-way ticket to Laos. She traveled from her home in Paris with just a Leica M2 camera, one-hundred dollars and the knowledge of how to parachute. After receiving her press credentials, Leroy spent the next two years photographing the war in Vietnam. In 1968, Leroy was taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, but was able to talk them into releasing her. As she was leaving the encampment, she had the audacity to ask if she could take a picture of her captors. The resulting photo of Viet Cong soldiers relaxing appeared on the cover of Life magazine. After the fall of Saigon, Leroy went on to cover conflicts in Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Somalia, Lebanon, Iran and Iraq. She ended her war photography career in 1982 after her experience covering the Siege of Beirut. She continued covering other stories until her death in 2006. “I just shoot for the troops. I try to pack as much information and emotion as I can into one frame. I find that my biggest weakness is my biggest strength, and that is really getting in touch With my subjects. Most of the time, if they are suffering, so am I.” —Stacy Pearsall to Staff Sgt. Stacy Pearsall, now retired from the U.S. Air Force, signed up to serve at the age of 17. In 2001, Pearsall was awarded a position in the elite and typically all-male 1st Combat Camera Squadron (COMCAM) and began her photography career. While in COMCAM, Pearsall traveled to more than 40 countries and took nearly half a million photographs. In 2007, during a combat tour of Iraq, Pearsall sustained a spinal injury when an IED went off near her jeep. She kept it quiet as she did not want to be perceived as a “weak woman” by her unit. After suffering two more injuries, one while saving the lives of several soldiers during an enemy ambush in Iraq, Pearsall was retired from the Air Force: her sustained injuries made her unable to carry around the 100+ pounds of gear she needed while on duty. During her last combat engagement, Pearsall received the Bronze Star Medal and a Commendation with Valor for her heroic actions under fire. She is one of only two women to win the National Press Photographers Association Military Photographer of the Year honor, and the only woman to have won it twice. “I am generally so focused on the story, and on producing good images, that I don’t get scared that often. I believe in fate and believe that when it’s time to go, I’m going to go. And I would rather have a camera in my hand when it’s that time.” —Lynsey Addario to journalist David McKay Wilson Lynsey Addario began her photography career with no professional training in 1996 by working for the Buenos Aires Herald in Argentina. After a year, Addario started freelancing with the Associated Press. In 2001, she began covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Dedicated to highlighting conflict and humanitarian issues all over the world, Addario has since photographed conflicts in Lebanon, Darfur, the Congo and Haiti. While in Pakistan in 2009, Addario was in an automobile accident while returning from an assignment. Her collar bone was broken, another journalist was injured and the driver was killed. In March of 2011, Addario was one of four New York Times journalists who were kidnapped in Libya. She was threatened with death and sexually assaulted during her captivity. Despite these experiences, upon her release, she vowed to go back into the field and continue telling stories as they happen on the ground.