Lee Miller (1907 – 1977) was born in Poughkeepsie, New York and began her career as a model for publications such as American Vogue and Vanity Fair. In 1929 she moved to Paris where she worked and collaborated with Man Ray. She also ran her own successful photography studio in the city and later in New York. Her experimental photographs along with her portraits and WWII documentations, including the famous image of herself taking a bath in Hitler’s bathtub, have earned her a significant position in art history. Her work was, among many other exhibitions, displayed at dOCUMENTA (13) curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev.
Covid-permitting, Farleys House & Gallery, UK, will present Lee Miller: Fashion in Wartime Britain, from 21st March, a major exhibition focusing on Miller’s fashion photography. The show will feature over 60 of Miller’s images for British Vogue from 1939 to early 1944, many of which have never been seen before. The exhibition will be accompanied by a major new publication, featuring over 100 recently archived images by a truly independent artist.
In 1940 during the early days of the war Lee wrote to her parents: ‘The studio never missed a day – bombed once and fired twice – working with the neighbouring buildings still smouldering – the horrid smell of wet charred wood – the stink of cordite – the fire hoses still up the stair cases and we had to wade bare foot to get in – little restaurants producing food on a primus stove – carrying water to flush toilets and whoever could, taking the prints and negs home to do at night if they had the sacred combination of gas, electricity and water.’
New research, undertaken for the exhibition and accompanying book, on Miller’s wartime diaries has uncovered editorial shoots for British Vogue that Miller worked on for most of the early 1940s. Despite paper rationing, British Vogue was kept in print throughout the war under the influential editorship of Audrey Withers and was seen as an opportunity by the British government to encourage women to join the war effort. Miller’s fashion output was so prolific that in 1941, Audrey Withers described just how important Miller was to the publication: ‘she has borne the whole weight of our studio production through the most difficult period in Brogue’s [British Vogue’s] history’.
Despite the difficult wartime conditions, Lee used her talent and inspiration to achieve incredibly modern results, often taking models out of the studio to museums, a taxidermy shop and onto the streets.
Image: Image credit: Lee Miller, Corsetry, Solarised Photographs, Vogue Studio London England 1942 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2020. All rights reserved.