Tag Archives: Dickey Chapelle

Female World War II reporters – No Job For a Woman historical documentary

“Get that woman out of here!” screamed the North African bureau chief for The AP when wire service reporter Ruth Cowan arrived in Algiers to begin her war reporting career. Cowan and nearly 140 other American women reporters were accredited to cover WWII, but journalism, military and social conventions were against them.”

One of the upsides of social media is that it allows people, who may never have had a chance to meet, to make contact. Just after I had posted on the exhibition at the IWM London Lee Miller: A Woman’s War, and wrote that I knew nothing of Toni Frissell and Dickey Chapelle and would need to do some research, I received a lovely and informative email from Michele Midori Fillion (Hurry Up Sister Productions), director of the documentary No Job For a Woman: The Women Who Fought To Report WWII.  

Midori Fillion emailed me about some of these women saying: “Before World War II, war reporting was considered to be ‘no job for a woman’. But when the United States entered the war, American women reporters did not want to miss covering the biggest story of the century so they fought for and won access. But there was a catch: women reporters would be banned from the frontline, prevented from covering Front Page stories about generals and battlefield manoeuvres, and assigned ‘woman’s angle’ stories about nurses and female military personnel. Several refused to abide by these journalistic conventions and military restrictions and, instead, brought home a new kind of war story: one that was more intimate yet more revealing. They reached beyond the battlefield, and deep into human lives to tell a new story of war.

“This 60-minute historical documentary film focuses on three American reporters—photographer Dickey Chapelle, magazine writer Martha Gellhorn, and wire service reporter Ruth Cowan. Margaret Bourke-White is a main secondary character and Lee Miller and Toni Frissell are honorable mentions in the film through the use of their photographs and an ID photo of each them. Miller and Gellhorn were good friends.

“Needless to say, this subject— women war reporters—has been my passion for many years since first discovering the incredible life of Dickey Chapelle while I was in journalism school in 1990. I met Toni Frissell’s daughter and gained her permission to use Frissell’s photos in the film. Both she and Miller, being fashion photographers first, were incredible war photographers for the light and detail they captured in their images.

“The women, therefore, had to figure out how to work within the restrictions (Ruth Cowan) or by-pass them altogether (Martha Gellhorn) or a combination of both (Dickey Chapelle). Margaret Bourke-White was in a different reporter category altogether, male or female. Being Life Magazine’s star reporter, she had a path paved for her, but even still, she was treated differently because she was a woman. For example, she was sent by boat to North Africa along with the nurses because it was thought to be safer to send the women on a nice big boat and not with the male reporters who were flown over. The boat the women were on was torpedoed. But because Margaret Bourke-White had the reporters knack of being in the right place at the right time, she got an incredible story out of being in a torpedoed boat. Her male colleagues were furious not to have such ‘luck’.

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“American women reporters had to fight every step of the way to report the war: from getting accredited to fighting the restrictions imposed on women reporters once they were accredited. The restrictions included no access to Jeeps or mess halls, no going to the front lines in the war zone, no sitting in on press conferences etc. In other words, all of the things that a reporter would need access to in a war zone to cover the war and/or report career-changing stories.

“There were so many stories that I would have loved to include in the film and so many other reporters whose work I would also have liked to highlight, but I was constrained by funding and the parameters of making a contained 60-minute story. The film combines rarely seen archival footage and stills, actors reading the written words of the three main characters—they read from the women’s reports, letters, notes from their diaries, or selections from their memoirs—as well as interviews with contemporary female war reporters. Julianna Margulies narrates the film. No Job For a Woman is distributed by Women Make Movies and has been aired on PBS channel over the last three years.”

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Photo Show Stroll – Lee Miller: A Woman’s War IWM London

Miller’s most important legacy is without doubt her photography of the Second World War. Hilary Roberts, Research Curator of Photography, IWM.

As promised, here is a Photo Stroll through the exhibition Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museum in London. The show runs until 24 April 2016 and is billed as “a new major exhibition of 150 photographs depicting women’s experience of the Second World war by acclaimed photographer Lee Miller.”

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The photos may not be in chronological order, all have been taken with my iPhone and are an attempt to capture the journey and the atmosphere of the show. Walking through the show with my mum, my impression was of a city street taking me on a journey back to past eras—pre-Second World War, Wartime Britain and Europe and Post-Second World War. Set against muted red, grey, blue and green walls the various photos, paintings, objects, audio, film, text panels, pull quotes and glass-fronted vitrines, not dissimilar from shop-front window displays, encourage the viewer to look inside and out, to left and right, above and around corners, and to reflect on the women whose lives were affected.

Observations from my mum: “Incredibly interesting shots and angles; the intimacy of daily life such as a photograph of women’s pants and stockings hanging on a washing line which a male photographer would not have taken; the use of light; the naturalness and the breadth of the work both in image and text”.

The United States War Department accredited 127 woman as official war correspondents during the war, of these only four were photographers: Lee Miller, Margaret Bourke-White, Dickey Chapelle and Toni Frissell. I didn’t know of the last two women so now it’s time to do some more research.
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From the press  release: “2015 marks 70 2015 marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. When war broke out in 1939, women embarked on a continuous process of change and adaptation. For some, including Miller herself, the war brought a form of emancipation and personal fulfillment, but its many privations caused widespread suffering. Miller’s photography of women in Britain and Europe during this period reflects her unique insight as a woman and as a photographer capable of merging the worlds of art, fashion and photojournalism in a single image.

“Lee Miller: A Woman’s War will trace Miller’s remarkable career as a photographer for Vogue Magazine and for the first time will address her vision of gender. Miller was one of only four female professional photographers to be accredited as US official war correspondents during the Second World War.
Recognised today as one of the most important female war photographers of the twentieth century, through her work Miller offers an intriguing insight into the impact of conflict on women’s lives, detailing their diverse experiences and her own world view.

“Comprising four parts, this exhibition will document Miller’s evolving vision of women and their lives as she travelled between countries before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

Women before the Second World War considers the origins of Miller’s wartime vision of women and her evolution as a photographer in the years preceding the Second World War; drawing on early life experiences, such as childhood trauma, her brief career as a fashion model, her involvement in the Surrealist art movement, the influence of early mentors such as Man Ray, and her two marriages.

Women in Wartime Britain explains how Miller, in her new role as photographer for British Vogue,documented the gradual but inexorable transformation of women’s lives in wartime Britain between 1939 and 1944. Illustrating how wartime privation and suffering was offset, in some cases, by enhanced opportunities outside the home.

Women in Wartime Europe examines Miller’s coverage of the impact of war on women in Europe as a US official war correspondent for Vogue magazine, 1944 – 1945, highlighting the diverse and distinctive nature of women’s experience of liberation, defeat and military occupation. Here the exhibition considers the emotional and physical toll of war on women, including Miller herself, reflecting too on the capacity of war in the front line to temporarily dissolve established divisions between the sexes.

Women after the Second World War focuses on Lee Miller’s coverage of women in Denmark, Austria, Hungary and Romania in the immediate aftermath of war, contemplating the lasting legacy of war, the difficult process of recovery from wartime experiences and the adjustment to post-war changes.

The show is sponsored by Barclays and produced in collaboration with the Lee Miller Archives. See my previous post for photos and the Audio Interview I did with Hilary Roberts, Curator of Photography at IWM, and Lee Miller’s son Antony Penrose at the press preview.