Thursday, December 15, 2011

Through the Lens: Lee Miller

Lee Miller in her days as a fashion model.  She once graced the cover of Vogue.

While browsing Powell's Books in Portland, I came across a book about the remarkable Lee Miller, who was an American photographer, muse, fashion model and war correspondent.  She was the only woman to work as a combat photographer in the Second World War.

Miller led an interesting life, having been both in front of the lens and behind it. Early in her life, she influenced the work of Surrealist artist Man Ray, as he influenced hers -- they were lovers who met in Paris in the '20s, and their subsequent breakup in the '30s shaped some of his most memorable works.  Some other notable claims to fame include being the first person to ever appear in a Kotex ad (she had posed for stock photos for Edward Steichen, and he sold them to Kotex -- Miller was horrified), and David E. Schmeran's photograph taken of her sitting in a bathtub at Hitler's abandoned apartment in Munich in 1945.  Her coverage of the war included the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.  It's difficult to fathom the things she had seen -- upon her return to Britain, she suffered from post-traumatic stress.

In the later years of her life, Miller battled depression and alcoholism and was withdrawn.  It wasn't until after her death in 1977 that her only child, Antony Penrose, discovered what kind of remarkable life his mother had lived, as she never really shared her work.
...after Miller died, Penrose’s wife Suzanna was rummaging through the attic when she came upon some notebooks. “You better have a look at these,” she told her husband. He opened one and began to read his mother’s notes from the war. Then he found boxes and boxes — a roomful, in fact — of her prints and negatives. Slowly, he unwove the fantastic puzzle of his mother’s life.  How could he not have known? “When Lee closed something, she closed it,” he said firmly. “I knew she was handy with a camera when I was little — but that was about it. She never talked about the war.” (Source)
 You can view Miller's incredible work here.


Lee Miller Archives
The Guardian

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