Thursday, 11 January 2018

a remarkable woman

The lecture at this month's meeting of The Arts Society, Colchester (not to be confused with Colchester Art Society) was about the wartime photography of Lee Miller, and to give it an added frisson the lecturer was her son.  I first heard of Lee Miller when I saw a strange and visually arresting photograph of a strikingly beautiful woman in profile at an exhibition of Man Ray's work at the National Portrait Gallery.  The caption said that the model was called Lee Miller, Man Ray's muse and surrealist collaborator, and that the strange appearance of the photograph was due to a process called solarisation, caused by exposing the photograph to light during the development process.  The effect had been known about for years without anyone doing anything much with it.  The idea that Man Ray could exploit it to do something interesting came from Lee Miller.

After that I might not have thought much more about Lee Miller, if the Imperial War Museum hadn't put on an exhibition of her war photography a couple of years ago.  The Systems Administrator and I went, and discovered that while the photographs were good, the life of Lee Miller was riveting.  She reinvented herself many times in her life, as a model in New York, surrealist artist in pre-war Paris, a fashion photographer for Vogue, an accredited war photographer attached to the US army in the aftermath of D-Day, wife, mother, and finally gourmet cook.  Friend of Picasso and Miro, she suffered from years of depression leading to alcohol abuse after what she had witnessed in the war, dragging herself back to sanity and sobriety in her later years, described by her son as her finest achievement.  She was a truly remarkable woman.

You couldn't get through all that in one lecture, and today's talk focused on her photographic work during the war, which started on the home front with pictures of women's war work and utility fashion, and ended with Lee Miller bathing in Hitler's bath and arriving to document some of the Nazi death camps within hours of their being liberated.  She was a good photographer, besides being brave, determined, and bloody-minded.  At one point she and her fellow American Life correspondent David E Scherman were three miles ahead of the advancing US army.  Her former home is now a museum, her son one of the custodians of her archive, and he spoke well and movingly.  It is a matter of public record that in her post-war, depressed, drinking years she was not an easy mother.

After the IWM exhibition I couldn't understand why nobody had made a film of her life.  Apparently one is now afoot, with plans for Kate Winslet to play Lee Miller.  That would be worth seeing, if it comes to fruition.  Her son said that it should be on our screens in 2019 or 2020.  Something has started happening because he had photographs of Kate Winslet at the old family home and studying the archive.  But when I checked on Kate Winslet's IMDb entry there was no mention of it as being in pre-production or filming, so I'd better not get too excited quite yet.

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