I used to think of Lee Miller as a much-overlooked heroine of art and photojournalism and as a pioneer of early feminism. I was struck by the various different lives she led and roles she managed to play within her lifetime. For an American girl of 21 to board a ship for Paris in search of adventure is quite bold in itself.
Lee was rock & roll in the truest sense of the term. She was the woman everyone wanted to be. She was exquisitely beautiful, she modelled for Vogue, she was exceptionally intelligent and able to hold her own in conversation with Dali, Picasso and Man Ray, and she was a talented photographer. She was also unafraid of love and fell for one man after another, often casting men aside to fulfil her sexual desires.
The thing I admire most about Lee Miller is that she was unafraid to change direction in her life. She spent five years in Paris, then decided to go home to New York and set up her own photographic studio. When she tired of taking portraits of New York society girls she married a wealthy Egyptian and moved to Cairo. When she tired of marriage she travelled extensively around Europe and got back in touch with Picasso and Man Ray to develop her photography and art further. This frivolity with people and place maybe shows an inability to commit to any one person or career, but photography was the constant in her life and she translated travelling into art through her lens.
It wasn't until the war that Lee Miller really became a heroine. She worked as a photojournalist for Vogue and was the first woman on the front lines. She photographed the horrors of the concentration camps and was the first to enter Hitler's bunker in Munich after he committed suicide. The photojournalist essays she did for Vogue during the war amount to her best work. They are certainly her most poignant. It seems odd today that a fashion magazine like Vogue was prepared to print the images of skeletal corpses at Belsen taken by Lee. That just goes to show the power and influence that she had at Vogue by this time. The V&A retrospective, which ran through the latter half of last year, showed many of these pictures for the first time and it's at long last that Lee Miller has been rightly recognised as one of the greatest women of the 20th century.