Lee Miller's lens on the 20th century
Renowned photographer Lee Miller was in the right places at the right time during World War II. She photographed London during the blitz, Normandy after D-Day, and the liberation of Dachau concentration camp.
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What is unusual about Miller is her mystique: a mysterious blend of who she was, what she did, and how she did it. Initially a New York model, Miller refused to be confined by the categories of fashion and appearance, rejecting style in favor of substance. In her war photography, she ultimately proved for an era that a beautiful woman can also be talented and brave. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a single other female photographer who started her career in front of the camera but chose to adopt a life behind it.Skip to next paragraph
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Miller was discovered by publishing magnate Condé Nast, who launched her career as a model by putting a drawing of her on the cover of Vogue in March 1927. Once in Europe, she fell in love with action and the frontiers of art and current events. Her life is best summed up in her own statement: "I'd rather take a photograph than be one."
Many of Miller's photographs bear the eerie stamp of Surrealism, the style that she discovered during the photographic work she did in Paris as an apprentice to expatriate American artist Man Ray.
Surrealism is said to be about dreamlike freedom from conventional constraints, and in her photography, Miller favored offbeat subjects like carousels, flea markets, and spilled tar. "She saw her world with a delicate, cool elegance," Penrose said of her photos in his 1985 book, "The Lives of Lee Miller."
But there was a point where Miller had had enough of Paris, and, in 1932, she temporarily returned to New York and established her own studio where she concentrated on commercial work and portraits.
In 1935, her life took an unexpected turn when she married Egyptian businessman Aziz Eloui Bey in New York and moved to Cairo. There, she took photos of desert life in her own inimitable style, such as the famous image of escape, "Portrait of Space," pictured here.
Tall, vibrant, and uncontainable, Lee Miller was a woman who broke new ground in art and in life. In the process, she has become nothing less than a legend who saw and recorded the upheavals of the 20th century through her own lens.
• "The Art of Lee Miller" will be at the Philadelphia Museum of Art until April 27. It will be at San Francisco MOMA from July 1-Sept. 21. It then travels to the Jeu de Paume, Paris, where it will be on exhibit from Oct. 14-Jan. 11, 2009.