Lee Miller, Women with Fire Masks, 1941 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2007. All rights reserved.
The Art of Lee Miller, which runs at the V&A until January 6 2008, celebrates the life and career of one of the most accomplished and creative photographic artists of the 20th century.
Bringing together the greatest images of and by Lee Miller, the exhibition includes works never before exhibited or published, including satirical drawings and some of the most disturbing photographs ever taken.
Miller’s was an unconventional and eventful life. As well as a photographer she was a model, a Surrealist muse and a journalist. With over 140 works, including drawings, a rare collage, film extracts and magazine pages, this exhibition represents the entire range of her remarkable career.
“Lee Miller’s life has been described as a ‘jigsaw puzzle’,” said Mark Haworth-Booth, curator of The Art of Lee Miller. “Now, 100 years after her birth, this exhibition finally weaves together her many arts and tells the tale of one of the 20th century’s most creative women.”
It is as a photographer that Lee Miller is best known and she excelled at many kinds of photography. The exhibition reveals how multi-faceted her work was and includes striking surrealist images and portraits of celebrated figures of her time including Charlie Chaplin and Picasso.
Lee Miller, Self-portrait in Headband, Published 1933 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2007. All rights reserved
Her fashion and advertising work, travel and documentary photography of Egypt and Romania, and her photojournalism in the Second World War are also included in a show which manages to bring together her most outstanding photographs.
The avant-garde Exploding Hand (c.1930) and her series of nudes; the shocking Severed Breast (c.1930) are exhibited for the first time together with iconic shots such as the Women with Fire Masks (1941), which brilliantly adds a surreal twist to life in London during the Blitz.
Unsurprisingly World War Two was a pivotal period for Miller and as a freelance war correspondent for Vogue she captured both in words and pictures, the liberation of Paris, the siege of St Malo, the Buchenwald and Dachau death camps, and the kitsch banality of Adolf Hitler’s Munich flat.
The only official female photojournalist in combat areas, Miller’s extraordinary contribution to journalism during the war is shown through original magazine spreads that attest to both the power of her images and her eloquent reporting.
Another section of the exhibition reveals her skill in front of the camera and brings together studies of her by many of the era’s greatest fashion and art photographers including George Hoyningen-Huené, Edward Steichen and Man Ray. There are also extracts from Jean Cocteau’s 1930 avant-garde film The Blood of a Poet in which Miller stars.
George Hoyningen-Huené, Lee Miller: Sailcloth Trousers by Yrande, 1930 V&A Collection © R Horst
However it was her unease with her role as a model that saw her blossom as photographer and reporter and in 1932 she left Paris (and her lover Man Ray) to return to New York where she established her own photographic studio. A section called New York 1932-34 explores the exquisite portraiture, fashion and advertising works she produced during her time there.
Egypt 1934-39 includes photographs of the country’s landscape and ruins taken during her time in Cairo as a result of her marriage to engineer Aziz Aloui Bey. The section also features her portraits of the Surrealists at play, including Roland Penrose for whom Miller left Egypt and her husband.
A final post-war section covers the period when Miller concluded her photographic career by capturing her renowned friends – including Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Saul Steinberg – in a humorous series called ‘Working Guests’ at her family farm in Sussex.
The exhibition is the result of a close collaboration between the V&A, Antony Penrose and the Lee Miller Archives. For further information visit www.leemiller.co.uk