Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Day

When I was 16 I discovered one of my all time Heroines. The College I was studying at had a small exhibition of a handful of photographs taken by Elizabeth Lee Miller in the entrance hall and they caught my attention as I was wandering around eating breakfast before classes started.

The only information I absorbed at the time  (I had an extremely selective attention span at that age as most 16 year old Art students do) was that the few black and white photographs were taken during World War II when Miller dangerously travelled around Europe as a War correspondent.

A few years later I read a book about her life and was utterly amazed. Born in New York in 1907, Lee Miller was introduced to photography by her Father and would often be the main subject of his portfolio. At the age 19 she was stopped from walking in front of a car by the founder of Vogue Magazine and had a very successful early career as a model until she moved to Paris to become an apprentice, lover and muse of Man Ray. This experience helped mould Miller into a well respected Fashion and Fine Art photographer.

(Lee Miller profile by Man Ray.)

When World War II broke out Miller was residing in Hampstead, London and with her passion for photographic documentation ignored pleas from family and friends to return to America. By doing this her career started as a War correspondent for American Vogue.

(Lee Miller in Hitler's bath tub published, April 1945 just after his death.)

The photos were extremely harrowing as all War photographs are but there was a hidden beauty under the surface of the pictures that captivated me. Maybe something in the light and composition of the pictures that I couldn't quite put put my finger on until I discovered that she had been taught by one of the World's greatest photographers.

(Dead SS Soldier in canal, Dachau, Germany 1945)

Among the numerous fashion photographs and portraits were sobering shots of war taken on the front line, the London Blitz, German bomb raids in St Malo, France, in Hitler's Villa and at the newly liberated Dachau.

(The suicide of a  Mayor's daughter, Leipzig, 1945)

After the War ended, Miller continued to shoot fashion and celebrities for Vogue but found the contrast of situations difficult to grasp and like many people after the War, started to suffer with Post Traumatic Stress. Through her suffering, Miller continued to work on the occasional shoot for Vogue but soon exchanged her cameras for the Kitchen and during the 60's became a highly successful gourmet chef.

(London 1941)

Although Miller threw Herself into her new career path, Images of the scenes she had photographed at concentration camps and the front line continued to haunt her and she fell into depression.

Elizabeth Lee Miller died of cancer at her Sussex home in 1977.  She was 70 years old. Miller's work continues to be exhibited. I try to attend as many as I can. What an incredible Woman with such an incredible life story.  I would urge anyone to read her biography.

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