Elizabeth ‘Lee’ Miller (23 April 1907 – 21 July 1977)
Her father, Theodore Miller, an engineer, inventor and businessman, introduced Lee and her brothers, John and Erik, to photography from an early age. She was his model–with many stereoscopic photographs taken of a teenage Lee in the nude-[sexual harasshment?]-and he also showed her technical aspects of the art.
In 1929 she traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the Surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his photographic assistant, as well as his lover and muse. While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Man Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. In fact, many of the photographs taken during this period and credited to Man Ray were actually taken by Lee. Together with Man Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of Solarisation. She was an active participant in the Surrealist movement, with her witty and humorous images. Amongst her circle of friends were Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard, and Jean Cocteau. She even appeared as a statue that comes to life in Cocteau’s The Blood of a Poet (1930).
In 1934, she abandoned her studio to marry Egyptian businessman, Aziz Eloui Bey, who had come to New York to buy equipment for the Egyptian Railways. Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt with Bey, including “Portrait of Space”, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images. By 1937, Lee had grown bored with her life in Cairo and she returned to Paris, where she met her future husband, the British Surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose. Her photographs were not included in another exhibition until 1955, when her work was displayed with the Family of Man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Ignoring pleas from friends and family to return to the US, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue documenting the Blitz. Lee was accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942. She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a Life Magazine correspondent on many assignments. Miller travelled to France less than a month after D-Day and recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, the liberation of Paris, the battle for Alsace, and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. One photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s house in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership.