An American photographer cum fashion model, Lee Miller was born in New York on 23 April 1907. She lived till July 1977 and during this time rose up the ladder of popularity. During World War II, she became a highly praised war journalist for Vogue. She covered the Liberation of Paris, London blitz, Buchenwald’s and Dachau’s concentration camps.
Theodore Miller, Lee’s father, introduced her to photography at a young age. She was a model for her father – posing nude for stereoscopic photographs. Along with this, he introduced her to the technicalities of art. When she was 19, Lee met Condé Nast, founder of Vogue. This is how she appeared on the front cover of the magazine in March 1927. She then became the “most wanted” model for the next two years in New York – photographed by Arnold Genthe, Nickolas Murray and Edward Steichen. The menstrual pads company Kotex, used an image of Lee shot by Steichen, for an advertisement. However, this ended her modeling career as result of a scandal.
Lee Miller traveled to Paris in 1929 and became Man ray’s model and photography assistant. During her time in Paris, she created her own studio, frequently taking Man Ray’s assignments so that he gets a chance to concentrate on painting. Collectively she and Ray discovered solarisation, a photographic method. With her witty images, she actively participated in the surrealist movement. She was friends with Jean Cocteau (French artist, playwright, designer, dramatist, novelist and poet), Paul Élaurd ( one of the founders of the surrealist movement and a poet) and Pablo Picasso ( Spanish ceramicist, printmaker, painter, sculptor and stage designer).
In 1932, she left Man Ray and returned to New York to establish a commercial and portrait photography studio with her brother Erik. In the same year, her work was included at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York at the exhibition of Modern European Photography. A year later, Lee Miller got her chance to do her only solo exhibition with Levy. Her portrait photography clients included Virgil Thomson’s and Gertrude Stein’s opera Four Saints in Three Acts African American cast; Gertrude Lawrence and Lilian Harvey, actresses; and Joseph Comwell, surrealist artist.
Moving on, Lee married Aziz Eloui Bey, an Egyptian businessman, after abandoning her studio in 1934. While living in Egypt, she photographed surrealist images that are regarded as most striking. After two years, she didn’t want to live in Cairo and moved back to Paris, and met Roland Penrose, British sculptor and surrealist painter.
Then world War II broke out in 1939 and Lee was living in London with Roland Penrose. During this time, she got on with a new career – photojournalism. Lee Miller qualified as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications into the United States Army in December 1942. Post war, Lee continued her work at Vogue for two more years, photographing celebrities.
She then returned to Britain and found herself severely sick with clinical depression. She tried to uplift her mood after knowing about her pregnancy due to Roland and hence she married him. Antony Penrose, their son, was born in 1947 and by 1949, they bought Farley Farm House in East Sussex. However, later images from the war and concentration camps kept haunting her. Also, her husband, Roland’s affair with Diane Deriaz, accelerated her depression.
Much later, in 1955, she displayed her photographs in a show, The Family of Man, in New York. at the Museum of Modern Art. But in 1977, Lee Miller died from cancer at her farm house in East Sussex.