Elizabeth “Lee” Miller

lee miller

Lee Miller was an American photographer, model and Surrealist muse who became Vogue’s war correspondent during the Second World War and was responsible for some iconic images of the Blitz, Paris after liberation and the horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau. She worked with famous artists such as Man Ray and Jean Cocteau and was close friends with Picasso and Gertrude Stein. In later years, she married the British painter Roland Penrose.

Miller is best known for her photojournalism during the war (although some of her pre-war Surrealist photography is among the best in the world, and was initially credited to Man Ray, with whom she was working at the time), and having initially documented the effect of the Blitz on London, she followed the US Army into France just after D-Day, documenting the progress of the Allies as they liberated the country. From there, she photographed the liberation of concentration camps, children in a Vienna Hospital and Hitler’s abandoned apartment. After the war, she continued in photojournalism but moved to Central Europe, in particular Hungary. As the Cold War was only in its very early stages, she retained considerable freedom of movement and photographed some startling images for Condé Nast publications.

In later years, after her marriage, she became a successful gourmet cook and the home she shared with her husband soon became a place of pilgrimage for such artists as Henry Moore and Max Ernst. Unfortunately, the effects of her war journalism took their toll and she suffered severe bouts of depression and drank heavily. She sadly died of cancer in 1977.

Miller was by no means the first woman to make her living as a photographer or war correspondent; I believe that may have been Martha Gellhorn, but I would have to check. Her close links with the Surrealists, however, make her photography all the more interesting and I think it’s a shame she’s little known.

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