Profile of Lee Miller
Elizabeth "Lee" Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977), was an American model, photographer and photojournalist. She was a fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became a fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she was a war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris.
Biography of Lee Miller
Childhood, New York
Lee Miller was born on April 23, 1907, in New York. Her father was of German descent, and her mother of Scottish and Irish descent. Theodore always favored Lee. In her childhood, Miller experienced issues in her formal education, being expelled from almost every school she attended. In 1925, at the age of eighteen, Miller moved to Paris where she studied lighting, costume and design at the Ladislas Medgyes' School of Stagecraft. She returned to New York in 1926 and joined an experimental drama programme at Vassar College then enrolled in the Art Students League of New York in Manhattan to study life drawing and painting..
At 19 Lee Miller nearly stepped in front of a car on a Manhattan street but was saved by Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue. This incident helped launch her modeling career.
she appeared on the cover of Vogue on March 15, 1927. Miller's look was exactly what Vogue's then editor-in-chief Edna Woolman Chase was looking for to represent the emerging idea of the "modern girl."
For the next two years, Miller was one of the most sought-after models in New York, photographed by leading fashion photographers including Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe, Nickolas Muray and George Hoyningen-Huene. A photograph of Miller by Steichen was used to advertise Kotex menstrual pads, without her consent, effectively ending her career as a fashion model. She was hired by a fashion designer in 1929 to make drawings of fashion details in Renaissance paintings but she found photography more efficient.
1929, Photographer, Man Ray, Paris
In 1929, Lee Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray but soon Miller soon became his model and collaborator, as well as his lover and muse. While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Ray's fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. So closely did they collaborate that photographs taken by Miller during this period are credited to Ray.
Together with Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation, through an accident variously described, with one of Miller's accounts involving a mouse running over her foot, causing her to switch on the light in mid-development.
Amongst Miller's circle of friends were Pablo Picasso and fellow Surrealists Paul Éluard and Jean Cocteau, the latter of whom was so mesmerized by Miller's beauty that he coated her in butter and transformed her into a plaster cast of a classical statue for his film, The Blood of a Poet (1930).
Photography is perfectly suited to women as a profession...it seems to me that women have a bigger chance at success in photography than men...women are quicker and more adaptable than men. And I think they have an intuition that helps them understand personalities more quickly than men."
1932, Photographer, New York
In 1932, Lee Miller returned to New York City and established a portrait and commercial photography studio with her brother Erik as her darkroom assistant.
Clients of the Lee Miller Studio included BBDO, Henry Sell, Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein, Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin and Co., and Jay Thorpe.
During 1932 Miller was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and in the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition International Photographers with László Moholy-Nagy, Cecil Beaton, Margaret Bourke-White, Tina Modotti, Charles Sheeler, Ray, and Edward Weston.
In response to the exhibition, Katherine Grant Sterne wrote a review in Parnassus in March 1932, noting that Miller "has retained more of her American character in the Paris milieu. The very beautiful Bird Cages at Brooklyn; the study of a pink-nailed hand embedded in curly blond hair which is included in both the Brooklyn and the Julien Levy show; and the brilliant print of a white statue against a black drop, illumine the fact rather than distort it."
In 1933, Julien Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life. Among her portrait clients were the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell, actresses Lilian Harvey and Gertrude Lawrence.
1934, marriage, Cairo, Egypt
In 1934, Miller abandoned her studio to marry the Egyptian businessman and engineer Aziz Eloui Bey, who had come to New York City to buy equipment for the Egyptian National Railways. Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt with Eloui, including Portrait of Space, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images.
In Cairo, Miller took a photograph of the desert near Siwa that Magritte saw and used as inspiration for his 1938 painting "Le Baiser." Miller also contributed an object to the Surrealist Objects and Poems exhibition at the London Gallery in 1934.
1940s, Photojournalist, USA, France
In 1937, Miller returned to Paris, where she met the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose.
Four of her photographs ("Egypt" (1939), "Roumania" (1938), "Libya" (1939), and "Sinai" (1939)) were displayed at the 1940 exhibition Surrealism To-Day at the Zwemmer Gallery in London, and she herself moved to London to live with Roland Penrose.
When the Second World War broke out, Lee Miller returned to the US and embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue, documenting the Blitz.
She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life correspondent on many assignments. Scherman's photograph of Miller lying in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler's apartment in Munich, with its shower hose looped in the center behind her head, resembling a noose, is one of the most iconic images from the Miller–Scherman partnership.
1947, Motherhood, second marriage, Farley Farm House
In 1946, Lee Miller found herself pregnant by Penrose, she divorced her husband Bey and on May 3, 1947 married Penrose. Their son, Antony Penrose, was born in September 1947.
In 1949, the couple bought Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst.
While Miller continued to do the occasional photo shoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen, becoming a gourmet cook.
According to her housekeeper Patsy, she specialized in "historical food" like roast suckling pig as well as treats such as marshmallows in a cola sauce (especially made to annoy English critic Cyril Connolly who told her Americans didn't know how to cook). She also provided photographs for her husband's biographies on Picasso and Antoni Tàpies. However, images from the war, especially the concentration camps, continued to haunt her and she started on what her son later described as a "downward spiral".
Miller died of cancer at Farley Farm House in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes were spread through her herb garden at Farley.
Miller's work has served as inspiration for Gucci's Frida Giannini, Ann Demeulemeester and Alexander McQueen.
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