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Women War Photographers

April 12, 2018

Women first began photographing conflict a century ago. Pictures published world-wide have made some of those female pioneers famous.

Journalist Camille Lepage ermordet in Zentralafrika
Image: FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images

Today more and more women are working as war reporters. Many can get to places men are not allowed to go. Women first began photographing conflict a century ago. Pictures published world-wide have made some of those female pioneers famous. What motivated the women who have brought us images from the front in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Chad. And what do they see that men fail to?

Viennese journalist and photographer Alice Schalek (1874-1956) is believed to be the first woman who recorded a military conflict on film. During World War One, she took portraits of Austrian soldiers at the front. Back then, the mere fact that a woman had created such images shocked even progressive men.

During the Spanish Civil War, Gerda Taro (1910 - 1937) made a name for herself. The Jewish socialist from Stuttgart had fallen in love with Robert Capa after meeting him in France. Together, they became the most celebrated chroniclers of the civil war, documenting the conflict from the Republican side. Gerda Taro died after being crushed by a tank at the age of 26. She was the first female photojournalist to be killed while covering a war. Taro had long been forgotten, but recent research has indicated that many of the photos attributed to Capa -- who went on to co-found the legendary photographic agency Magnum -- were actually hers.

Seven years after Taro's death, an American woman, Lee Miller, covered Allied troops as they battled against Hitler's Germany. Miller first attained fame as a muse and model for Man Ray and Jean Cocteau. Later, she became renowned for her images of the end of the war in Germany. The photograph of her in Hitler's bathtub is legendary.

Camille Lepage died too young to go down in history. The Frenchwoman documented the horrors of the civil war in the Central African Republic, a conflict that even shocked UN peacekeepers. She paid with her life for her passion for capturing images of conflict. French troops found the 24-year-old's body on a battlefield. Lepage's compatriot and fellow war photographer Christine Spengler is one of the few who have survived the conflict apparently unscathed. In this documentary, Spengler introduces her famous counterparts.

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