Known to many as the muse and lover of surrealist artist Man Ray, as well as for her lips, which he captured in the painting A l’Heure de l’Observatoire—Les Amoureux, the photographer Lee Miller was very much an accomplished artist in her own right.
Born in Poughkeepsie, New York in April 1907, Miller began her career in photography when she was discovered by Vogue founder Conde Nast at nineteen, subsequently modeling for that era’s most famous photographers, including Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe and Nickolas Murray. But by 1930, after studying art in Florence and Rome, she had moved behind the camera, first working as an assistant to Ray (during which time the two re-discovered the process of solarisation) and later opening her own commercial studio in Paris and then in New York.
Miller joined the staff of Vogue as a fashion photographer in 1940. At the outbreak of World War II, however, Miller who, in addition to Margaret Bourke-White and Georgette Louise Meyers, was one of the few women working as a war correspondent in the battlefield, photographed for Vogue as a freelancer. Miller and Bourke-White would ultimately become the first photographers to capture the liberation and horrors of Buchenwald and Dachau, prompting Miller to write in a cable she sent with photographs of the concentration camps’ inmates, “I IMPLORE YOU TO BELIEVE THIS IS TRUE.”
Miller’s relationship with Ray, as well as her later marriage to Roland Penrose, gave her access to many of the period’s most celebrated artists, such as Brancusi, Ernst, Miró and Picasso, who she photographed extensively.
Miller continued working for Vogue throughout the early 1950s, and her work was featured in the Museum of Modern Art traveling exhibition, The Family of Man, and at the 1976 Art Institute of Chicago show, Photographs from the Julien Levy Collection.
Miller, who suffered from major depression during the latter decades of her life, was diagnosed with cancer in 1976. She would die that following year, three months after her 70th birthday.
Miller’s work is currently on exhibit at dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany, Surrealistiska Ting at the Mjellby Konstmuseum in Hamstad, Sweden, as well as in the U.S. at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco in Man Ray / Lee Miller: Partners in Surrealism.