la rotonde

Carolyn Burke

Seduced by the model snapper: Henry Castiglione is won over by a life of Lee Miller, surrealist muse and war photographer

By Henry Castiglione, The First Post (UK online magazine)
December 12, 2005

Lee Miller lived a life of almost unimaginable richness, excitement and sadness. After a difficult and traumatic childhood in upstate New York, Elizabeth Miller (as she was named) moved to Paris where she became Man Ray's muse, lover and assistant.

She modelled for Vogue, starred in a Jean Cocteau film and was celebrated as the most beautiful woman in the world. That was just the beginning: soon a highly respected photographer in her own right, she left Man Ray, married an Egyptian aristocrat and moved to Cairo — it didn't last.

It was during the Second World War, however, that Miller found her true metier, as a reporter and photographer and the most striking and moving images in this lavishly illustrated book (Lee Miller by Carolyn Burke: Bloomsbury, £20) are from this period.

But taking these images came at a price, and she was mentally damaged by what she had seen at Dachau. After the war, Miller moved to England to live the life of a country lady and mother with her husband Roland Penrose, the surrealist.

This last role was the one that suited her the least. In England she filled her time drinking, quarrelling with her son and, most improbably, indulging in experimental cookery. It is remarkable how Lee, despite her inconstant nature, managed to inspire such loyalty in friends and lovers.

Even as a cantankerous alcoholic she still had a magnetic effect on people. It is clear from reading this addictive book that Carolyn Burke has fallen deeply for Lee Miller's singular charms; I did too.