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b. 1907, United States

Lee Miller Biography

Although she was initially best known for being Man Ray's muse and lover, Lee Miller has a significant reputation today for her artistic output, capturing poignant photographs of Europe during World War II.

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Miller's creative and commercial photographic practice, for advertising and fashion, was heavily inspired by Surrealism and rediscovered techniques such as solarisation to alter and manipulate images. Her photojournalism is considered an important body of work for its intimately candid historical documentation.

Early Years

Miller was born in 1907 in Poughkeepsie, New York. As a young girl, she would pose for her father who was an amateur photographer. She quickly became familiar with the practice of photography and took a keen interest in the medium.

At the age of 19, Miller studied drawing and painting at the Arts Student League in New York. While in New York, she was scouted for her beautiful looks by Condé Nast. By 1927, Miller was on the cover of Vogue magazine and became a regular model for the world-famous fashion publication.

In 1929, Miller moved to Paris to work alongside Surrealist artist Man Ray as his studio assistant. She became romantically involved with Man Ray and influenced his artwork, often appearing in his photographs. Miller began running her own portrait studio and started spending time with Modernist artists such as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Jean Cocteau.

Lee Miller Artworks

Portrait of Space (1937)

In 1934, Miller married an Egyptian businessman called Aziz Eloui Bey and, abandoning her Paris studio, moved to Cairo. She began to take photographs of the Egyptian landscape using her surrealist-trained eye.

Portrait of Space (1937) depicts the Egyptian dessert framed by a broken fly screen. Miller's black and white photograph captures a portrait of a barren landscape from a Surrealist perspective. The hole in the broken fly screen is evocative of an eye looking onto the scene. The empty landscape is undistinguishable and suggestive of uncanny dreamscape scenery, a subject often depicted in surrealist paintings and photographs.

Portrait of Space has been referenced as an inspiration for Surrealist artist Rene Magritte's painting La Basier (1957).

World War II Photographs

After meeting artist Roland Penrose in Paris in 1937, Miller moved to London to pursue a relationship with him. A few years later, World War II began and Miller became the official war photographer for Vogue magazine. She took a wide range of photographs for the British magazine, including stark war documentation, portraiture of women in the war, as well as fashion photography.

While in London, Miller captured unsettling scenes of the Blitz and documented her photographs in the book Grim Glory (1940). In this series of work, Miller photographs bombed buildings and air-raid shelters alongside women working in the war. Each black and white image depicts women on the Home Front working in factories and hospitals, working as nurses, mechanics, and pilots.

By 1942, Miller travelled to Europe where she documented the horrors of war. Her photographs captured field hospitals in Normandy, death camps in Dachau and Buchenwald, and battle scenes in the German-occupied city of St Malo.

Miller's World War II photographs are an important series of work because they provide eyewitness accounts of the destruction and brutality of war. They blend journalism and art to compose photographs that summon emotion while revealing the harsh realities of warfare and conflict.

Awards and Accolades

Lee Miller's photographs are included in the permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.

Miller's photographs are conserved and catalogued by The Lee Miller Archives in Sussex. The Lee Miller Archives manage Farleys House and Gallery, Miller's countryside estate and permanent collection that are open to the public.

Exhibitions

Solo exhibitions include: The Woman Who Broke Boundaries, Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida (2021–22); Lee Miller: Fashion In Wartime Britain, Farleys House & Gallery, Chiddingly (2021); Lee Miller: A Photographer Between War and Glamor, The Museum of Design, Zürich (2020–21); The Woman Who Broke Boundaries: Photographer Lee Miller, Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida (2020); Lee Miller: To Believe It, Kunsthalle Erfurt, Erfurt (2020); Lee Miller and Surrealism in Britain, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2018–19); Lee Miller: Last Gallery Show, Galerie Hiltawsky, Berlin (2017); Lee Miller: Photographs, Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2016).

Group exhibitions include: Love Stories From The National Portrait Gallery, Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts (2021–22); Roland Penrose & Lee Miller: The Road Is Wider Than Long, Farleys House & Gallery, Chiddingly (2021); From Margins To Mainstays: Highlights From The Photography Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida (2021); Enfin Seules: Photographs from the Archive of Modern Conflict, Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, Luxembourg City (2021); Photography and the Surreal Imagination, The Menil Collection, Houston (2020); Women War Photographers: From Lee Miller to Anja Niedringhaus, Fotomuseum Winterhur, Winterhur (2020); and Body. Gaze. Power. A Cultural History of the Bath, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden (2020)__.

Galleries

Lee Miller is represented by the Lee Miller Archives.

Website and Instagram

Lee Miller's website can be found here and her Instagram can be found here.

Phoebe Bradford | Ocula | 2022

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