Lee Miller: In fashion

A book that explores the life of  Lee Miller the American photographer, Man Ray muse, Vogue’s model through 150 iconic images

Lee Miller would definitely not have wanted to be remembered as a model. Perhaps this was why, at the end of the 20s, she took advantage of a scandal caused by the inappropriate use of her image in advertising to leave her home town, New York, for Paris after four seasons as a cover model (she appeared on the front of Vogue in March 1927 shot by George Lepape). Lee did not just want to sample the French belle époque: she wanted to follow a passion that she had long pursued in her family—photography.

She rapidly became the disciple, muse and lover of the famous surrealist photographer Man Ray. This courageous American pioneer joined his artistic movement and became a close friend of Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau.When, in 1932, she decided to leave the Master to return to the US, Lee Miller was still only 25, but this didn’t stop her opening her own studio and being included in the Julien Levy Gallery’s Modern European Photography exhibition in New York—setting the seal on her transition from model to photographer and artist in her own right.

Lee then fell for and married Aziz Eloui Bey, an Egyptian businessman. In love with him, she moved to Cairo, leaving behind her studio, but not her love for the camera—some of the most representative surrealist images, such as Portrait of Space, date from this period. When, bored by Egyptian life, Miller chose to return to Paris in 1937, she was perhaps still seeking her destiny. She found it thanks to the surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose, who became her second husband and the father of her only child, Antony.

A new stage in her life opened with the first bombing raids of the Second World War. The route she took broke new ground for women of the time, who at most reinvented themselves as Red Cross nurses. Lee Miller became a photojournalist and war correspondent for Vogue and all the Condè Nast publications. She worked alongside David E. Scherman, the renowned Life photographer, and it is to their partnership that we owe that famous photograph of her in Hitler’s apartment in Munich—a photograph more expressive than a thousand history essays.

She documented many of the bloodiest and most important episodes in that tragic chapter of the twentieth century. Many of those moments remained “photographed” on her soul, causing her severe, chronic depression. In 1947, with the late and unexpected arrival of a son, she and her husband moved to a farm in East Sussex. Farley Farm House became a kind of artistic mecca, a place where you might meet some of the important figures of the time, for example Picasso, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst. Each of them left their mark on the place, helping to transform it into what it has become today. Farley Farm House is now a museum curated by her son Antony, keeping alive the memory of the great Lee Miller. She’s also being celebrated in a new book, Lee Miller in Fashion by Becky E. Conekin, which explores the life of the American photographer and muse through 150 iconic images.

Lee Miller in Fashion
di Becky E. Conekin
Thames & Hudson

 

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