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Catherine Leroy

Catherine Leroy
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Photographer Catherine Leroy (1945-2006) humanized mankind’s propensity for inhumanity. Leroy grew up in a Paris suburb, went to Catholic school and had a love for performing classical piano. But in 1966 at age 21 she bought a one-way ticket to Saigon, equipped with only $150 and a camera with the intention of becoming a war photographer in Vietnam. The Associated Press got her placed and she quickly found herself in the midst of heavy combat.

Her most iconic photograph from the time shows a US soldier holding a felled brother in arms in the midst of a shelled battle zone, capturing the moment he realized his compatriot is dead. Catherine herself was constantly under fire, once hit by shrapnel from a shell that tore open her chest and would have killed her if not for her camera blocking a piece. She was also captured briefly, but kept shutter flying by taking pictures of her captors that showed a more human side to them than was being shown. She showed that women not only could be in the field covering the war, but keep up with the soldiers and remain professional.

In 1975 she left Vietnam for Lebanon at the beginning of their civil war, and then in Beirut during Israel’s siege of the city. She took pictures of the living rather than the dead, showing the effects the strife was having on not just soldiers but civilians, parents and children, people trying to live their lives in Hell. Government propaganda during wartime dehumanizes the whole concept, making its nature more palatable to those at home. Catherine’s photographs pointedly reminds those same folks that these are human beings fighting and dying, making the horrors, the strengths, the pyrrhic victories and the incomprehensible losses all too real.

In the 1980’s she left the battlefields and worked for a time as a fashion photographer in Japan, before settling in Los Angeles and running a website that traded haute couture clothing until her passing. Some say war is hell, but AP reporter Richard Pyle remembered Leroy from their time during the 1982 Israeli siege of Beirut, sitting in a swimsuit at poolside and saying in her heavy French accent, “Alors Ree-char, zees ees all bool-sheet.”

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