After gracing the covers of Vogue and being the muse and lover to a famous artist, she could have cashed in on her beauty and fame. But instead, Lee Miller became a leading war correspondent, documenting the atrocities of the Second World War and Nazi concentration camps. She also became an awesome cook.
The genius of the girl from Poughkeepsie NY was that she was able to live many lives when most of us barely live one. Not content with being a famous model, Miller left New York for the gritty bohemian life of 1930s Paris, where she met her man and match, Man Ray. But her restlessness and intellect got the better of her and she started taking her own photographs.
In 1942, she embarked on a new career as a photojournalist, accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent (the first female to do this) and traveled to France less than a month after D-Day. She 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. Where her fashion world contemporaries where photographing Chanel and Tiffany’s, Miller photographed dying children in a Vienna Hospital, peasant life in post-war Hungary and ﬁnally the execution of Prime Minister László Bárdossy.
Not surprisingly on her return to Britain, Lee suffered from severe clinical depression and what later became known as post-traumatic stress syndrome. She began to drink heavily and rely on various narcotics to cope with her post-war life.
In 1949, she and then husband, surrealist painter and poet Roland Penrose, bought Farley Farm House in Sussex, England. During the 1950s and 1960s, Farley Farm became an artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst.
While Miller continued to do the occasional shoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen becoming a successful gourmet cook. However, images from the war, especially the concentration camps, continued to haunt her and she started on a yet another downward spiral.
Lee Miller eventually died from cancer at Farley Farm House in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes spread through her herb garden at Farley Farm House.
Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures