Thérèse Bonney: “Photofighter”

Photographer Thérèse Bonney was already in Europe when World War II began. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, she sent thousands of pictures of France back to the United States through her syndication service, the Bonney Service, including spreads on European modernism and on American expatriates in Paris.  By her account, she reached 150 newspapers, including ten major daily papers.  (To put this in context, the five big news services with which she competed supplied photographs to 2000 newspapers and 150 Sunday supplements.)

In September, 1939, Bonney traveled to Finland to photograph preparations for the 1940 Summer Olympic Games. As a result, she was one of the few phototjournalists in Finland when the Soviet Union invaded on November 30.  Bonney remained in Finland until the brutal “Winter War” ended on March 13, 1940.  Many of her images from the war appeared as a photo essay in Life.

Bonney was horrified by the brutality of World War II.  Once she left Finalnd, she traveled through the French countryside on what she called “truth raids,” in which she documented the plight of children and adults made homeless by the Nazi invasion.  She also photographed several Nazi and Vichy concentration camps and Nazi accumulations of looted art.

She looked for multiple ways to reach her audience.  In addition to syndicating her photographs in American newspapers, she self-published two influential books of photographs, War Comes to the People and Europe’s Children, and held one-woman shows at museums in the United States and Europe.

She received the Croix de Guerre and the Legion d’Honneur from the French government and the Order of the White Rose of Finland for her work She was also the heroine of a wartime comic book, Photofighter.  Now there’s glory for you!

Just a reminder:  My publisher, Beacon Press,  is giving away 25 copies of The Dragon From Chicago on Goodreads. You can sign up here  through July 4. Good luck!

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