Lee Miller

In 2003 I lived in Los Angeles. It must have been the weekend and I was bored while housesitting in Bel-Air. I figured out I was within walking distance from the Getty Center.  I made my way to the museum using the sidewalks when and if the city deemed fit to build them. It was hot. I was alone. I was happy and my mind was open to anything.

The trolly sailed me up the track to the museum. Once there, I began to wander about with nothing particular on my mind, no expectations, no destination. I know very little about photography but a few black and white images caught my eye. Then I saw Lee Miller, model, surrealist, muse, war correspondent, alcoholic. So fucking cool. Lee Miller was the kind of woman that men think they want to be with until they realize she is way too cool for them or for this planet.  Lee Miller's life was a beautiful mixture of art and tragedy and as surreal as the dirt and film floating atop warm water in Adolph Hitler's bathtub.   

Various Lee Miller

Various Lee Miller

In 1927...

At the age of 19, Lee Miller was stopped from walking in front of a car by founder of Vogue, Conde Nast, thus launching her modeling career when she appeared on the cover of the March 1927 edition in an issue by George Lepape. 

In the 1920s Lee Miller was one of the most sought after models in New York, photographed by the likes of Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe and Nickolas Murray. A photograph of Lee by Steichen was used to advertise Kotex, a female hygienic product, causing a scandal and effectively ending her career as a fashion model in 1929.

Muse

Lee travelled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Man Ray at first insisted that he did not take students but Miller soon became his photographic assistant as well as his lover and muse.

While in Paris, Lee’s circle of friends included Pablo Picasso, Paul Eluard and Jean Cocteau. She also appeared as a statue that comes to life in Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet. 

Lee Miller portraits by Man Ray and Picasso

Surrealist

While in Paris, Lee often took over Man Ray’s fashion assignments. Many of the photographs that have been attributed to Man Ray were actually taken by Lee.

Together, Man Ray and Lee Miller rediscovered the photographic technique of solarization and participated in the surrealist movement. 

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, Nr Siwa, Egypt 1937

Lee Miller, Portrait of Space, Nr Siwa, Egypt 1937

Photographer

After leaving Man Ray and Paris in 1932, Lee returned to New York and established a portrait and commercial photography studio photographing NewYork artists and celebrities. 

Lee Miller, Portrait of Picasso, Cannes, 1958. © Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Lee Miller, Portrait of Picasso, Cannes, 1958. © Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

In 1934, Lee abandoned her studio to marry Egyptian business man, Aziz Eloui Bey and went to live with him in Cairo, Egypt. She became fascinated by desert travel and, although not working as a professional photographer at the time, her photographs of that period are considered her most striking surrealist images.

By 1937 Lee had become bored with Cairo, left her husband and travelled back to Paris where she met Roland Penrose, the surrealist painter and curator whom she would eventually marry. 

War correspondent

In the 40’s, during World War II, Miller’s wanderlust carried her into the trenches where she embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war correspondent for Vogue.

As a correspondent for Conde Nast, Miller would witness the siege of St Malo, the Liberation of Paris, the Russian-American link up at Torgau, the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau and photographed Hitler’s house in flames on the eve of Germany’s surrender. 

Right: Lee Miller in Hitlers bathtub at No 16 Prinzregentenplatz Munich. 04/30/1945

After returning to Britain from eastern Europe, Lee started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression and PTSD. She began to drink heavily and became uncertain about her future.

However, in the 1950s and 60s, Lee Miller, now a mother and wife, reinvented herself as a gourmet cook and turned their home, Farley Farms into an artistic mecca for visiting artists. 

Lee Miller died at the Farley Farm House July 21st, 1977.