AROUND TOWN: LEE MILLER AT THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM

Over 150 photographs, paintings sculptures, a portrait by Picasso, clothing and many before unseen artefacts from the life of this extraordinary woman.

Lee Miller is best known for being one of the foremost war correspondents during WWII, and her work is now being heralded as some of the most important of the 20th Century.

She both wrote about and photographed front line scenes from the allied liberation of Europe, astronomically ground breaking for a woman at that time. Her pre-war background saw her eschewing a career as a highly successful fashion model in New York for Vogue before becoming a significant part of the Surrealist movement in Paris: the boldness, stark humour and contrast of this genre was what made her photos so poignant.

Arguably her most famous photograph, Miller having a bath in Hitler’s bathtub, washing away the dirt after documenting the liberation of Dachau Concentration Camp.

Her photography career began working with the legendary photographer and artist Man Ray in Paris 1929. Together they perfected the technique of Solarisation, the over exposure of negative in the camera. It is said to have been an accident by Miller in the Darkroom and from there they went on to experiment with it.

While Man Ray nurtured her technical ability, her eye for the evocative picture was a result of her exposure to the Surrealist movement, befriending and being painted by Picasso she ended up at the heart of the movement. Embedded in the ethos of the Surrealism is the element of surprise, juxtaposition and non sequitur. The displacement of imagery in her photos increased their impact and became a medium through which she made a commentary.

The latter part of her wartime work was the part of her career that Miller found the most purposeful. As an official War Correspondent she was attached to the American army and when travelling to France a month after the D Day landing, she ended up as she describes it with a ‘battle in her lap’ the siege of St Malo. A perfect example of her eye for the juxtaposed is one of her photos from here shows an American soldier standing with a long pole with a child’s doll stuck on to stick up and be shot at for test for enemy snipers, an innocuous place for an object of innocence and play. Another, where US Army Artillery spotters direct mortar fire from the Honeymoon Suite of a hotel with very feminine décor, the irony obviously amused her.

She experienced the liberation of Paris, Vienna, and the battles for Nuremburg, Cologne and Alsace, and the communist impact in the once decadent Bucharest and Budapest. The freeing of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau were undoubtedly her most harrowing. She stated that she was ‘very proud’ of her magazine for not shying away from publishing the gruesome truth of the camps.

The collection of photographs is extensive and each one is an art form, when considering that she had none of the technology used today, or the time to ask her subjects to pose to retake the shot, the collection becomes astonishing in its clarity and integrity.

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