The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

She built a dizzying modeling career in Paris and became the muse of Man Ray and Pablo Picasso. And then she exchanged bohemian evenings with the cream of society for trenches and filming in concentration camps as a war correspondent. We tell the incredible story of Lee Miller, worthy of becoming the plot of an adventure film.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

In her youth, Lee Miller clearly could not imagine how fate would lead her to the cover of Vogue magazine, to the company of famous photographers and surrealist artists, to luxury yachts, and later to war zones, concentration camps in Dachau and Buchenwald (and even to Adolf Hitler's apartment a few hours before his death).

Her inspiring story will serve as the plot for a new film starring Kate Winslet, but many details of the fascinating biography of the American, unfortunately, will remain under the veil of secrecy. We tell you how a successful fashion model became the only female reporter on the front line of the Second World War.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller as a child

Elizabeth Miller was born in Born in New York in 1907 in the family of an engineer and an amateur photographer. When the girl turned seven, her mother became seriously ill and could not look after the child, so it was decided to send her to friends in Brooklyn. There was a tragedy here that left a huge imprint on her life.

However, the trials for the girl did not end there: her father, a photographer, often took pictures of his daughter naked, which lasted from a young age until the girl was twenty years old. Although working with her father may have instilled in her a love of photography, such shootings clearly could not benefit her psyche.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller in the lens of George Fdorovich Goiningen-Gune, 1932

A long thin neck, deep blue eyes and a masterful ability to pose - it is not surprising that the girl was destined to become a fashion model. The path to fashion turned out to be quite unexpected and fast.

Late one evening, 19-year-old Elizabeth left her apartment in Manhattan, crossed the road and was almost hit by an oncoming car. She was saved from the tragedy by an unknown man who grabbed her and pulled her to safety. The guardian angel of the girl was Conde Nast, a well-known publisher and owner of Vogue magazine.

A few months later, Miller's photographs adorned the covers of British and American Vogue, and soon the girl was already dating the cream of New York society - Josephine Baker, Cecil Beaton, Fred Astaire, as well as Charlie Chaplin, who became one of her many suitors.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller and Man Ray

Miller's life was luxurious, but she absolutely did not satisfy the famous model — the girl was not at all attracted by the passive role of a model. Her life changed again when in 1929 Steichen showed her the works of Man Ray. The famous photographer and surrealist artist was extremely popular in the USA and Europe at that time.

Inspired by his work, Miller decided to leave her modeling career, home in New York and went to Paris with the hope of becoming Ray's student. After several weeks of searching, Miller finally found him in one of the Parisian bars. They say that that evening the girl approached the photographer with a pile of letters of recommendation and said:

Ray replied that he was not taking any students, and in any case he was going to Biarritz for a vacation the next day. Ray was amazed by her beauty and audacity. Needless to say, the next day they went to Biarritz together and did not part for another three years. All this time she was his muse, a talented student and a part-time lover.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

An article in the magazine "Picture Post", dedicated to the shooting for the magazine "Vogue" by Lee Miller, October 26, 1940

Of course, Miller was far from the kind of person who likes to live in the shadows. Soon the girl opened her own studio on Montparnasse, and her clients were iconic fashion designers Jean Patou, Elsa Schiaparelli and Coco Chanel. At the same time, she played the main role in the avant-garde film "The Poet's Blood" by Jean Cocteau.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Model posing for Lee Miller

Man Ray, who was possessive by nature, was jealous of Miller and considered Cocteau his rival. The independent girl, of course, did not want to put up with this, left her house with Ray and decided to return to New York. In 1934, Vanity Fair proclaimed her one of the most outstanding photographers of the time.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

A model in tennis clothes poses Lee Miller

However, her career was put on pause when she met Egyptian businessman Aziz Bey, whom she married almost immediately. Lee decided to close her studio in Paris and moved to Cairo. However, life in Egypt (and her new husband) quickly bored the girl.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller, 1944

With the outbreak of World War II, Miller found it increasingly difficult to focus on fashion. Driven by vanity, boredom, politics, altruism, or a combination of all these factors, Miller applied for accreditation as a war correspondent.

Miller became the only female war photographer in Europe, and her contribution to military journalism was unparalleled. She joined the U.S. Infantry Division and was on the front line of the Allied offensive from Normandy in Paris. Years later , Miller 's son Anthony talked about his mother:

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller and American Soldiers, 1944

Miller's photographs of dead people in Buchenwald would look shocking in any context, but imagine if they were published in the middle of a glossy fashion magazine.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

Lee Miller in Hitler's apartment, Munich 1945

Despite the fact that she did a lot of shocking and terrifying military filming, one of the most famous shots was a photo of herself Lee in 1945. After Miller and her friend David Sherman visited the concentration camps, they entered Adolf Hitler's empty apartment and took some photos.

Li, completely undressed, is sitting in the Fuhrer's bathroom, and next to her are her boots, stained with the dirt of the Dachau concentration camp. Of course, Miller could not have imagined that just a few hours after this photo was taken, Hitler and Eva Braun would commit suicide in a bunker in Berlin.

The Incredible Lee Miller: how a famous model became a war photographer

English art critic and radio critic Frederick Lawes and Lee Miller at the performance of Pablo Picasso's "Desire Caught By The Tail", London 1950

After the war, when Miller was already 40 years old, she became pregnant by the collector and surrealist artist Roland Penrose, married him and moved to New York. Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Miller was never able to recover from her experience on the front line and became addicted to alcohol.

When Anthony grew up, he distanced himself from his mother, who never told him about her childhood, high-profile modeling career and work in the war.

After a while, Miller was still able to get rid of depression and alcohol addiction and rediscover herself. The woman very successfully took up cooking, however, in an unexpected way. Her surreal masterpieces included blue spaghetti, pink cauliflower and Coca-Cola ice cream with marshmallows, and recipes were often published in Vogue magazine.

Lee Miller died of cancer at the age of 70. It was only after her death that her son discovered in the attic an archive of her photographs, negatives and shoots for Vogue, realizing the path his mother had taken.

Miller even kept the story of her childhood rape a secret.

Since then, Anthony has devoted his entire life to the work of restoring her story, revealing the identity of his own mother as he never knew her. He made an archive of her works and wrote biographies of both his parents. In addition, filming of a military biopic starring Kate Winslet will begin in 2021.

And although now the story of the model and the war correspondent has become public, many of the adventures of this incredible woman will remain a secret.

Keywords: Female photographer | Career | Model | Destiny

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