Issue Number: 96
Lee Miller captured the drama of her times, says Ariane Bankes
The beautiful and charismatic Lee Miller dedicated her whole life to the camera – whether before or behind its lens. It was her mirror, her experimental prism, her means of conveying the horror of war, of characterising friends and lovers.
Yet it was not her sole means of expression – she was a model, Surrealist muse, artist, war correspondent, and later a flamboyant hostess. Miller’s many faces are celebrated in a centenary show at the V&A that draws together hitherto missing pieces of the jigsaw of her life.
Its curator, Mark Haworth-Booth, has trawled the world in the company of Miller’s son, Antony Penrose, to find work never seen before. Her shocking Severed Breast (c. 1930) and drawings that reveal her unease with her role as a model appear next to original spreads of her Vogue photojournalism on bombed cities, surgery behind the lines, and devastating images of Buchenwald and Dachau.
Miller’s role as a muse (of Man Ray and Jean Cocteau) gave rise to her ethereal portraits of the 1930s; her friendship with the Surrealists inspired enigmatic images and a witty send-up of friends in her ‘working guests’ series. Miller’s talent was to filter beauty, mystery and horror through haunting images. She was a true poet of the camera.
The Art of Lee Miller, Victoria & Albert Museum, London (020 7942 2000; www.vam.ac.uk), 15 Sep–6 Jan 2008