Today is April 8 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “what is the price you are willing to pay?” Navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well demands an understanding that everything has a price. The life, career, and personal choices we make all have a price. Asking ourselves what price we are willing to pay to create the life we envision is a critical step in translating a dream into reality.
In chapter one of Walden, Henry David Thoreau wrote "the cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life. which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run." Failing to ask yourself this question, or choosing to ignore its practical application, jeopardizes the very pursuit of translating ideas into action.
Catherine Leroy understood the value of this question and become a pioneering female photographer who documented some of the fiercest fighting of the Vietnam War. She created the life she envisioned and understood there was going to be a high price to pay as a war photojournalist. Very few women went to Vietnam as journalists, and even fewer as dedicated war photojournalists.
Leroy was brought up in a convent in Paris. She was moved by images of war she had seen in the magazine Paris Match, and decided she wanted to travel to Vietnam to "give war a human face." At the age of 21 she booked a one-way ticket to Laos in 1966 as a freelancer with no contracts, one Leica M2 camera, and $100 in her pocket.
On arrival in Saigon Leroy met the photographer Horst Faas, bureau chief of the Associated Press. Leroy faced no shortage of sexism. After she parachuted into combat during Operation Junction City, in early 1967, rumors circulated that she had slept with a colonel in exchange for permission. The truth was she had earned her parachutist license as a teenager and had already jumped 84 times.
Still, she developed a reputation as a photographer quickly, selling photos to The Associated Press and U.P.I. Leroy was widely considered the most daring photographer in Vietnam. Living with soldiers meant that she could eat rations and sleep in the countryside. At one point during the Tet offensive, in early 1968, she was captured by the North Vietnamese Army.
She explained she was a journalist and would do no harm, so the soldiers let her go. But first she persuaded them to let her take photos, saying that it was important because only one side of the story was being seen. The photos ran as a cover story in Life magazine, which she wrote herself. After Vietnam she continued to serve as a photojournalist in war-torn countries and won numerous awards for her work.
For a cover story on Leroy in the December 1988 issue of American Photographer, Leroy explained the draw of war photography: "I've always found that it was very exhilarating to be shot at without result," she said. "It's the biggest high of all, a massive rush of adrenaline. The high you experience in times of great danger is a high that you cannot experience anywhere else."
A tiny woman who stood barely five feet tall and weighed well under 100 pounds, Leroy nevertheless had an enormous impact on the photography world and those with whom she worked. Upon her death in 2008 at 60 years of age, one friend said Leroy “came from a generation who would put their lives on the line for their convictions.”
Leroy won several awards during her career, including the coveted Robert Capa Gold Medal, the Picture of the Year competition, and the New York Art Director's Club, to name a few. Another friend spoke of Leroy’s character and noted "She had an outsized courage and sense of conviction, which made her not easy to deal with for a lot of people. But she stuck by her guns and did what she felt was right.”
As a pioneering woman in the field of war-time photojournalism Catherine Leroy paid the price of poverty, sexism, and being captured behind enemy lines. She endured a great deal to translate her dreams into reality.
What is the price you are willing to pay for creating your life? What are you willing to endure?