Lee Miller – A Courageous Photographer


By Giorgia Ferro

David E. Scherman by Lee Miller

David E. Scherman by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives England 2018. All Rights Reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

Following the success of the Vivian Maier exhibition, Palazzo Pallavicini continues to promote female photography by presenting the retrospective dedicated to “Surrealist Lee Miller” curated by ONO Arte Contemporanea, celebrating one of the most important photographers of the twentieth century.

Whilst starting out as a successful model at the end of the 1920s thanks to a chance encounter with Condè Nast director of Vogue, her stubborn and enterprising personality, soon pushed her towards the exploration of photography coming to the realization that she’d “rather take a picture than be a photo.”

With this inclination in mind, she moves to Paris where her interest in the images of the most important photographer of the time, Man Ray, who she manages to meet, becoming his model and muse will be extremely influential in the development of her style. She establishes with him an enduring artistic and professional partnership that together will lead them to develop the technique of solarization.

Nude bent forward by Lee Miller

Nude bent forward by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives England 2018. All Rights Reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

A friend of the whole circle of surrealists from Picasso to Ernst, Conteau and Mirò, Miller in these years opens her first studio in Paris becoming known as a portrait and fashion photographer, even if the most important pieces of work in this period are certainly represented by surrealist images, many of which are erroneously attributed to Man Ray.

Surrealist is her way of observing, as is the photographic lexicon she used, which is characterized by the use of metaphors, antitheses and visual paradoxes designed to reveal the unusual beauty of everyday life.

The show consists of 101 photographs from the Lee Miller archive that traces the photographer’s entire artistic career, through what are her most famous and iconic shots, including the session in Hitler’s apartments, rarely exhibited internationally for fear of their improper use.

A reflection of her courage as a woman and artist at the time combined with her determination to record contemporary events are the series of photos dedicated to WWII.

Self portrait by Lee Miller

Self portrait by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives England 2018. All Rights Reserved. www.leemiller.co.uk

In fact, shortly before the outbreak of WWII, in 1939, she left Egypt to move to London, ignoring orders from the American embassy to return home, she began working as a freelance photographer for Vogue documenting the incessant bombing of London. Possibly her most important contribution to the history of reportage photography will come in 1944, when she is correspondent for American troops and collaborator of the photographer David E. Scherman for the magazines “Life” and “Time”.

The only female photographer to follow the allies during D-Day, reporting the activities at the front during the liberation, her photographs document the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. The works on display dedicated to this period are extremely insightful, more relevant than ever in this day and age, as they give direct testimony to the atrocities and contradictions of a war based on intolerance.

Running until the 9th of June, this is an important event for Bologna, for photo enthusiasts and the curious alike as whilst the works can be appreciated for the artistic qualities they also give us a glimpse into one of the most important historical events of the last century.

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