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E/ Legendary lives of Lee Miller 1907-1977

The photographer Lee Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907. Although her father was a keen photographer, her own professional career did not begin until 1927, when she was discovered by the owner of Vogue magazine. As a result, Lee Miller worked as a model for some of the leading American photographers of the day.

Lee Miller moved to Paris in 1929, and with an introduction by Edward Steichen, went directly to Man Ray’s studio in Montparnasse. Her relationship with Man Ray progressed from her role as his muse, lover, and surrealist model, to his apprentice. Together they went on to develop the process of solarization that they were both to use in their work. Lee Miller developed an acutely trained Surrealist eye, which was to carry through all her subsequent work. [+]

“It is true to say I knew her hardly at all during her life time. She suffered enormously from the effects of her war experiences, but I had no understanding of this. To me she was difficult, neurotic, often drunk and frequently absent on some journey with my father. I did not know that many of those journeys were the visits to Picasso where she took some of the best photographs of her career.”

Antony Penrose, 2007, The Boy that Bit Picasso” in Lee Miller: Picasso in private [exhibition catalogue].

Fragment of the documentary The Lives of Lee Miller, 1986. Producer: Antony Penrose. ©Penrose Film Productions. Duration 1'13 min.

  • Bad burns case
  • Normandy, France. June 1944
  • © Lee Miller Archives.

Part of the interview by Ona Munson with Lee Miller for the radio show Town tonight at he Celebrity Room, Los Ángeles 1946. © CBS Radio Inc. Duration 1'36 min.

At the end of her personal and professional relationship with Man Ray, Lee Miller returned to the United States in 1932 and opened her own successful photographic studio. She excelled in portraiture and commercial work, but after two years, her life in New York came to an abrupt end when she impulsively married the Egyptian businessman Aziz Aloui Bey, whom she had met in Paris. They moved together to Cairo where she photographed her journeys into the barren, endless horizons of the desert and Explored isolated villages.

In 1937, on a summer trip to France, she met and fell in love with Roland Penrose. Later that summer, they went together to visit Picasso in Mougins.

At the start of the war in Europe, Lee Miller left Egypt and moved to England where she settled into a home in Hampstead with Penrose.

In late-1942, she became accredited as the Vogue’s war correspondent. Through her images and her writing, she created one of the most gripping testimonies of World War II, covering crucial events as a photojournalist: the Normandy landing, the liberation of Paris, the freeing of the Buchenwald and Dachau death camps, etc.

Lee Miller witnessed and photographed the worst side of humanity, but she also photographed some of the best. Her masterful and insightful portraits, taken throughout her entire career, are a fascinating record of the period. Her images are among some of the finest portraiture of the twentieth century.