Legendary War Photographer Marie-Laure de Decker Dies Aged 75

A photo taken by Marie-Laure de Decker in Vietnam and a photo of De Decker.
One of De Decker’s photos from Vietnam left. Portrait of De Decker, right.

French war photographer Marie-Laure de Decker has passed away aged 75, her family has confirmed.

A female photographer in a male world, De Decker was nevertheless able to navigate a successful career as a photojournalist; capturing the Vietnam War, the apartheid in South Africa, and riots against General Pinochet in Chile.

Who Was Marie-Laure de Decker?

De Decker was born in the then-French colony Algeria in 1947. Her striking looks got her work as a model before meeting the photographer Domonique Merlin and becoming engrossed with the footage he captured for The Anderson Platoon.

After being inspired to learn how to develop film, she began capturing the portraits of noted French figures before deciding to cover the Vietnam War with very little experience. Working with Newsweek in Saigon, she made a name for herself.

Armed with an aging Leica camera, she wrote in a 1985 memoir that she was plagued with self-doubt.

“I said to myself: people are going to see that I’m not a real photographer,” she said.

However, De Decker acknowledged how good the old Leica was, and after Vietnam, she spent time in Chad, a Saharan African country — extensively covering the Wodaabe people.

She also covered the conflict in Yemen and South Africa — meeting and taking photos of Nelson Mandela. She also traveled to India and Chile.

France 24 notes that De Decker talked about the challenges of being a woman photographer.

“If you’re a woman, you’re never taken seriously,” she says. But also spoke of some silver linings: “There is an advantage to being a woman, as was the case in South Africa — they don’t kill you right away, they give you a chance.”

Later in her career, De Decker joined the Gamma photo agency which ended in a legal dispute over the rights to her photos.

The agency refused to cede copyright to the digital version of her photos. De Decker took them to court but lost.

De Decker went on to take photos of high-profile figures, something she did to fund her trips to conflict zones.

“When you take photos of the poor, no one’s interested. You have to take photos of the rich to sell (them),” she said.

De Decker died in Toulouse on July 15. She had two sons with lawyer Thierry Levy.

Image credits: Marie-Laure de Decker.