lee miller

Even during the scandalous Roaring 20s, when women were bobbing their hair and baring their arms, products for “that time of the month” were advertised only very discreetly in women’s magazines. And until 1928, those ads featured line drawings or pastel paintings of females, never real women. But that taboo ended when photographer Edward Steichen sold a photo he’d shot of model and Voguecover girl Lee Miller to the Kotex Company. Miller’s modeling career in the U.S. was essentially kaput thanks to the scandalous placement of her photograph, and she fled to Paris where she studied photography and eventually became a renowned photographer in her own right.

In 1929, Lee 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.
At the outbreak of World War II, Miller was living in Hampstead, London with Roland Penrose when the bombing of the city began. 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 correspondent on many assignments. Miller traveled 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 apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller-Scherman partnership.
 Miller wrote to her Vogue editor Audrey Winters:

“I was living in Hitler’s private apartment when his death was announced, midnight of Mayday … Well, alright, he was dead. He’d never really been alive to me until today. He’d been an evil-machine-monster all these years, until I visited the places he made famous, talked to people who knew him, dug into backstairs gossip and ate and slept in his house. He became less fabulous and therefore more terrible, along with a little evidence of his having some almost human habits; like an ape who embarrasses and humbles you with his gestures, mirroring yourself in caricature. “There, but for the Grace of God, walks I.”

When the photo came out, it was considered an extremely poor judgement. For some, Miller posing nude in the tub of one of the most repulsive men in history was nothing more than a ill-timed reflection of the adage, “To the victor goes the spoils”. For others, it represents the power of life over death, “The living do what they can and the dead suffer what they must”. Lee Miller herself shied away from the controversies but reprouding the image very rarely and noted that she was merely trying to wash the odors of Dachau away.


Lee Miller smiles in combat fatigues in Alsace 1944. It was said that no soldier could resist a photographer with a fashion model’s striking beauty. The photo was taken by her friend and colleague, Life magazine’s David E. Scherman.

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