Greetings photography fans, we’ve got another instalment in our Masters of Photography for you today. This series looks at the lives and work of some of the most interesting and influential photographers of the last century.
Today we’re looking at the life and work of one of the most interesting photographers of the 20th century, and one of the few female war photographers in WWII, Lee Miller.
Elizabeth Miller was born in New York State in 1907 and was the daughter of Theodore Miller, an engineer and amateur photographer.
From very early on in her life, tragedy and near death were never far from Miller. At only seven years old, she was raped and infected with gonorrhoea – the perpetrator is unknown to this day.
But this would not be the last time that Miller faced extreme danger. At 19 years old she was nearly run over while crossing the street in New York. She was saved by a man who turned out to be Condé Nast, the founder of Vogue.
After noticing the beauty of the woman he saved, Nast hired Miller and she became a Vogue cover girl. After a fairly brief career in front of the camera, Miller travelled to Paris to learn photography from Man Ray.
The pair became lovers and worked together on hundreds of images. The pair also developed the “solarization” style of photography, which swapped the light and dark areas of a negative, creating a striking and otherworldly effect.
Miller is perhaps best known for her work during WWII. In the early days of the war she was sent to Britain by Vogue to photograph women’s style and help the magazine tell women how they should dress and behave during the conflict.
After becoming tired with this work, she began documenting everyday life during the war. Her images of London, particularly during the Blitz, show the harsh reality of living during the war in a stark contrast to the fashion work she had been producing up until that time.
Miller was one of the few female photographers who journeyed to mainland Europe to document the post D-Day invasion and she was present for the liberation of the concentration camp, Dachau.
Her images of the frontlines show the horror of war and offer a raw and unfiltered look into what people had endured during the course of the war.
The image that is probably most associated with her during this time, however, is an image of her sitting naked in Hilter’s bathtub in his secret apartment in Munich. With her boots in the foreground – still covered in the dirt of Dachau, she sits naked inside Hilter’s bathtub washing herself in an act of legendary defiance.
After the war, she married Roland Penrose, with whom she had a son, Antony. Unfortunately, the events she witnessed during the war left her burdened. She battled with what would later come to be known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and became an alcoholic.
By the time of her death, Miller’s photography work was nearly forgotten, and her son, Antony wasn’t even aware of it until he discovered photographs and negatives after her death. Since then he has dedicated himself to raising awareness of his mother’s work and spreading her images all over the world.