Lee Miller had different roles she played in her life, but her main roles were model, photographer, and war correspondent.
- Lee Miller was born April 23, 1907 in Poughkeepsie, NY. Her father Theodore created a darkroom in a cramped cupboard under the stairs; photography came to Lee like everything else she did in her life, easily.
- In 1925 Lee was sent to Paris to attend a private school and conclude at a finishing school in Nice, instead she escaped and she enrolled in an art school in Paris instead where she was surrounded by the Dada movement and artists of that era.
- In 1926, her father went to Paris and dragged Lee back to Poughkeepsie; once home and weaned from her parents again, she moved to New York and enrolled in the Art Students League, on weekends Lee would help her father Theodore with his photography...he soon began shooting nudes of Lee.
- March 1927 she started modeling for Vogue with Conde Nast. Her first issue was the front cover designed by artist Georges Lepape. She was so successful she became the face of Vogue. She modeled for Photographers Edward Steichen and Arnold Genthe. At 22 she was introduced to Man Ray by Edward Steichen.
- In 1929 she became Man Rays model, muse, assistant, collaborator and lover for 3 years. She would travel during those 3 years to the Paris Vogue studios to model for George Hoyningen-Huene, fashion photographer. She quickly adapted his lighting techniques as her own as well as her knack for getting people to talk and explain what they were doing. This allowed Lee to work both sides of the camera at the same time. Nine months into her apprenticeship with Man Ray, Lee began to take on assignments of her own for Vogue and other magazines. One of Lee and Man's best collaborations is the "Solarization" technique that was stumbled upon by accident. Lee was in the darkroom and felt something run across her foot and turned the overhead light on to see what it was. This in turn created the "Solarization" effect by double exposing the negative, Lee and Man Ray perfected it through timing.
- Through Man Ray she discovered Surrealism; she met Pablo Picasso & posed for him as a model. She inspired many of the surrealist artists of her time such as Henri Carter-Bresson who photographed her on Paul Eluard's knees. After being an actress in Jean Cocteau's film "Blood of a Poet", Lee decided to use that opportunity as a platform for her photographic works in New York. Her contacts with Conde' Nast allowed her to meet two elite "playboy's" in the social elite circle of NY, Christian Holmes and Cliff Smith. They both shared capital of $10,000 and helped Lee lease 2 connected apartments on E 48th Street to open her studio/apartment. She took on her brother Erik as an assistant for $100 a month. Her first exhibition in New York was held at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932 while she was still in Paris, then again in 1933 when she moved back to NY.
- In July 1934, Lee married an Egyptian, Aziz Bey and moved to Cairo, leaving her studio in NY and her brother Erik and his new wife Mafy (Lee's Secretary) without a job. For Lee, traveling was always more important than arriving. She always made her boldest decisions by blind instinct, not calculation. Her moving to Cairo with her new husband proved to be an unsatisfactory decision for her. Boredom set in at an alarmingly fast rate and she didn't pick up a camera for a few years after her move to Cairo. Depression would get the best of her. Her brother and his wife arrived in Egypt in March 1937 after Lee sent Erik a letter to request him to work for her husband's air conditioning company. Lee not being ever fully satisfied with life in Egypt left in summer 1937 for Paris for a visit. Arriving in Paris, Lee got right back into the thick of things, parties, friends, travel and sex. Her trip probed fruitful in that once back in Egypt she once again picked up her camera.
- In 1939 she left her husband in Egypt and moved to London where she worked once again for Vogue. She became a war correspondent at Vogue in 1940 even though there was limited production run; Vogue had to be sold at subscription due to the rationing of paper. Vogue was out of newsstand publication at that time for 8 years. Lee's photos were only seen by subscribers. Lee collaborated on a book with 2 fellow American's titled "Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain under Fire" The book was aimed at US public to demonstrate the sufferings of War Time overseas.
- Despite the difficulty of war, Lee seemed to crave the action and violence it brought about. She was on assignment for the US Army Public Relations Office in Saint Malo, France and was the only reporter for miles around, it gave Lee her own private war. She photographed air attacks from top floors of buildings where she captured one of the first uses of Napalm at the siege of St Malo. She would go on to more photojournalism in the battle for Alsace France, capture the horror of Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. David Scherman a photojournalist for Life magazine accompanied Lee and photographed her in the bathtub of Hitler's house in Munich. This was one of the most iconic images of the Miller/Scherman partnership. After WWII she continued to work for Vogue, covering fashion and celebrities. When she returned to America she suffered from severe episodes of clinical depression and began to drink heavily and self medicate.
- In 1947 after finding out she was pregnant, she finally divorced Aziz Bey the Egyptian and soon married the baby's father, Roland Penrose. Her son Antony would be her only child, was born in Sept 1947. In 1949 Lee and Roland bought a farm house in Sussex, England. The Farley Farmhouse would become a haven for artists such as Man Ray, Picasso, Max Ernst, etc... She died from cancer at the farmhouse in 1977 at age of 70, she was cremated and her ashes were spread throughout her herb garden at the farmhouse.
- One photograph from Lee's book "Grim Glory" stood out and caught the attention of the press throughout the world. 'Revenge on Culture' a photo of a beautiful fallen statue whose throat was "cut" by an iron bar and whose breast is covered by a fallen brick gave an eerie presence of life as it laid there surrounded by debris with its hand gracing the stone cold slab. The photograph addresses the cultural violence prevalent to the representation of femininity and at the same time it reveals a loss of innocence brought about by war. The photo suggests that culture, represented as women, has been broken and ruined alongside the aesthetic ideology that constructs her as such. This surrealist photo makes a prophetic and political statement about the construction and destruction of aesthetic culture.
- One of the first photographs of Napalm was taken by Lee during the bombing of Saint Malo, France. The photograph is a picture within a picture, she concentrates the viewers' attention on the subject by "framing" the blast. In her own way she asks the viewer to consider what it would be like to be in that room with her, being sheltered from the explosion, and viewing it from that distance. The photograph pulls you into how it was at that time of war and puts you in her "shoes" to seeing the first ever Napalm explosion. Sitting back and looking at the photo you get a feeling of emptiness and sadness but turn back to see that the photographer scared as she probably was, created this unique view of warfare.
'Revenge on Culture' photograph from "Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain under Fire"
'Bombs bursting on the Cite d'Aleth', St. Malo, France, 1944.