'Lee Miller: Both sides of the camera' by Carolyn Burke


A couple of years ago I picked up a used copy of this book on Lee Miller by Carolyn Burke. I knew Miller had been a photographer but that was it. It turns out she was probably one of the first under recognized female photographers of the 20th century. She was an early feminist and wore many hats. In her life, she had been a model, a muse, and a gourmet chef. Her beauty made her a legend. She modelled for Vogue and for several artists such as Picasso, Steichen, Man Ray, and was featured in Cocteau’s play 'Le sang d'un poète'. She was a bit of a fashionista too. When fabric was rationed during WWII, she influenced fashion sense by making recommendations on how women should wear their uniforms. 


Portrait of Space. Near Siwa Egypt, 1937 

When it comes to photography, my favorite photo of Miller is ‘Portrait of Space’. I love its minimalism and its surreal effect. In the late twenties, Miller was Man Ray’s lover, model, muse, and assistant. They formed a successful partnership producing Surrealist art. “Portrait of Space” could be seen as Miller’s need for escapism. The photo was taken when she lived in Egypt in the early 1930s after marrying an Egyptian businessman. On several occasions to beat boredom, she would load up her car with food, maps, and her camera gear and take her friends out to the desert for days at a time. 


Lee Miller in Hitler’s bathtub (1945), by David E. Sherman

As good as she on both sides of the lens, she was also a good writer. (A skill I’m always working on!) She was the photographer/correspondent for ‘Vogue’ and covered the war in Normandy and Hitler’s Germany during WWII. She wanted to be there at the front, which was unusual for a woman of her time, let alone as a photojournalist. I like her images of that period: she didn’t have the deadpan style that most photojournalists tended to use. Her Surrealist style resulted in interesting tableaux. 

Miller’s biography is a good read. I felt teleported to another era living vicariously in the skin of Lee Miller. I enjoyed it because I saw in Miller a woman who was talented, unconventional, and a good photographer as well.