Lee Miller was a woman a head of her time and was responsible for capturing some of the most important events of the second world war as a photojournalist and a war correspondent for the US army. Despite this, she is not that well known in history.Lee Miller was born into a wealthy family in New York in 1907, her mother was of Irish descent and her father was of german descent. Her features were described as “near perfection” and showcased her mixed origin.When Miller was 19 she travelled to New York to study at The Arts Student League, she was scouted by Conde Nast, the founder of Vogue. Miller quickly became one of the most sought after models in America and Nast launched her as a Vogue cover girl in 1927. (3) While working with Conde Nast Miller, was photographed.by Edward Steichen, the chief photographer for Conde Nast. Steichen was an innovative and military photographer but his fashion photography was shaped by Vogue’s requirements for classically glamorous images. 1Miller and Steichen’s relationship was an ideal partnership and served as the basis for Miller’s career in photography. 3 Millers late husband Antony Penrose detailed her attitude to her modelling career “she loved it at first but quickly became bored, seeing It as vacuous and shallow. Modelling is a profession with a very high casualty rate, Lee survived because she morphed into becoming a photographer” Millers career as a supermodel ended abruptly when an image of her was used for a Kotex advertisement in 1928, as feminine hygiene products were seen as a “taboo” during this time.However she saw this as an opportunity to kick start her career as a photographer. She famously stated “ I would rather take a picture than be one”. 1With this she travelled to Paris in 1929 and was introduced to Man Ray, the founder of surrealism, by Steichen.She worked with him for several months and the photos that she took with him served as inspiration for Miller and the basis of many of her wartime shots 1Miller returned to New York 1932 and rekindled her connection with Vogue, only this time she was working behind the lens photographing lifestyle and celebrities. When the war broke out in 1939 she volunteered as a studio assistant for British Vogue and moved to London. She documented the London Blitz in her spare time. However she quickly progressed to become one of the four American photojournalists accredited by the US armed forces for Conde Nast in 1942 1“ Now I wear a soldier suit on account of I’m a war correspondent for Conde nast press. You want to see me all done up and very serious like in olive drab and flat heeled shoes” Miller to her parents, May 1943.In 1943 Miller takes a more active role in wartime affairs and begins to write her own articles, beginning with a major feature on US nurses at Oxford. Miller begins to turn away from fashion photography. Here she displays her passion for depicting the roles that women played in contributing to the war effort. Women’s magazines were a vital source of information for British women during this time. The Ministry of Information Work closely with Miller and her publications with Vogue. After the conscription of women was introduced in 1941 women were given a choice of working in industry, nursing or working in the auxiliary. Miller produce several photographic series and women hair contributing to the efforts in many different waysMillers first assignment as a war Correspondent was to 44th evacuation Hospital near Omaha Beach.She Wrote how the barbed wire “looped into each other like filigree” and “patiently lay gathering strength for multiple operations on unorthodox wounds” 2Here Miller displayed her strength and capability as a writer. In contrast to her more experienced colleagues she was vastly and unprepared for the role and was more familiar with an environment based solely on femininity and beauty, however this motivated her to concentrate much of her photography on women during the war. Miller produced several photographic series and women contributing to the efforts in many different ways, showcasing the work of women in uniform and women in wartime europe. She remained focused on providing her largely female readers adequate information on the war. Above all she draws attention to the deep and lasting legacy of women’s wartime experiences.As a war correspondent she was attached to 83rd Infantry Division of the US Army she was in the front line of the allied advance from Normandy down to Paris and eventually into Germany. 2 According to her husband “The GIs liked her – they saw her as a good buddy she could swear as well as they could and put up with her being under fire” In January 1945 Miller covered the liberation of Paris in a journalistic piece entitled “Pattern of Liberation”, in Vogue’s January edition. Miller wrote , “The pattern of liberation is not decorative. There are the gay squiggles of wine and song. There is the beautiful overall colour of freedom, but there is ruin and destruction. There are problems and mistakes, disappointed hopes and broken dreams” 1Miller arrived in Paris on the day of liberation. Her first assignment was to report for Vogue on the fashion houses that had survived the German occupation, as some Parisian fashion houses closed during the occupation of France but the majority continued to function in an act of defiance. In a letter to a Audrey Withers (the editor of British Vogue at the time) written whilst she was staying in Paris during the liberation of the city, Miller writes about how she went to a “chastisement of french collaborators” “they were stupid little girls”,she writes “ not intelligent enough to feel ashamed”.In this same letter she talks about her “tastes for gunpowder”. “I won’t be the first woman journalist in Paris by any means – I guess I’m the only dame whos really covered a battle”. 2 .Miller depicted her lack of empathy for women who have been accused of collaborating with the germans and photographs several women with shaved heads being paraded in the street in a public shaming as a form of retribution.The presence of press cameras gave the spectacle a new unprecedented power.In April 1945, Miller travelled to Germany to cover the advance of US forces into Germany. In British Vogue, June 1945,“ the war is won”. Miller wrote;”Germany is a beautiful landscape dotted with jewel like villages, blotched with ruined cities, and inhabited by schizophrenics … mothers sew and sweep and bake, and farmers plough and harrow; all just like real people. But they aren’t. They are the enemy” 1Upon her arrival in germany Millers first impression of the country was a country that was untouched by war. It is during this time that she photographs the harrowing realities of the Concentration camps and captured the liberation of many camps across Germany, including Dachau.She documented the struggles the prisoners went through including a series of the women who were forced to serve as camp prostitutes. In a letter to Audrey Withers, Miller wrote: “Dachau had everything you’ll ever hear or close your ears to about a concentration camp. I fell on my knee once and the pain of a tiny sharp stone on my knee cap was fierce; hundreds of Auslanders had fallen like that everyday and night” 2 The photos she took in Dachau are regarded as some of her finest work, but it was an experience that would haunt her for the rest of her life.After leaving Dachau, Miller travelled to Munich. Perhaps one of Miller’s lasting legacies is the short time she spent in Hitler’s apartment. The photos she took here made her become known as “the woman in Hitler’s bathtub”She was in Hitler’s private apartment in Munich when his death was announced, “using Hitler’s toilet and taking his bath ”.2In a letter to Audrey Withers, she writes “I talked to the people who knew him, dug into backstairs gossip and ate and slept in his house” The photo in Hitler’s bath was carefully constructed on the floor are her boots, covered with the filth of Dachau, which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom floor and the shower nose is aptly shaped into the shape of a noose.In close proximity to Hitler’s house was Eva Braun’s private Villa. Miller famously staged a photo in Eva’s bed. She commented on the banal nature of the space, “The Long mirrored dressing table had odds and ends, tweezers, Elizabeth Arden lipstick refills….nothing was grimey, everything was new”. 2After the war, Miller settled down in Sussex and had one child, Antony Penrose.The trauma she experienced during the war from Omaha beach to the liberation of Dachau, resulted in Miller struggling with alcohol addiction in her later years. Her son knew nothing of her accomplishments until after her death in 1977. He has since highlighted her success in many exhibitions and books over the years. As shown from what I have discussed, Lee Miller was an important historical figure who deserves further investigation and a more recognised place in history. Miller once stated that “ Photography was perfectly suited to women as profession, it seemed to me that women have a greater chance of 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 better than men”. She has continued to influence the world of fashion even after her death and has since served as inspiration for both Gucci and Alexander Mcqueen collections since.
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