Miller’s most important legacy is without doubt her photography of the Second World War. Hilary Roberts, Research Curator of Photography, IWM.
As promised, here is a Photo Stroll through the exhibition Lee Miller: A Woman’s War at the Imperial War Museum in London. The show runs until 24 April 2016 and is billed as “a new major exhibition of 150 photographs depicting women’s experience of the Second World war by acclaimed photographer Lee Miller.”
The photos may not be in chronological order, all have been taken with my iPhone and are an attempt to capture the journey and the atmosphere of the show. Walking through the show with my mum, my impression was of a city street taking me on a journey back to past eras—pre-Second World War, Wartime Britain and Europe and Post-Second World War. Set against muted red, grey, blue and green walls the various photos, paintings, objects, audio, film, text panels, pull quotes and glass-fronted vitrines, not dissimilar from shop-front window displays, encourage the viewer to look inside and out, to left and right, above and around corners, and to reflect on the women whose lives were affected.
Observations from my mum: “Incredibly interesting shots and angles; the intimacy of daily life such as a photograph of women’s pants and stockings hanging on a washing line which a male photographer would not have taken; the use of light; the naturalness and the breadth of the work both in image and text”.
The United States War Department accredited 127 woman as official war correspondents during the war, of these only four were photographers: Lee Miller, Margaret Bourke-White, Dickey Chapelle and Toni Frissell. I didn’t know of the last two women so now it’s time to do some more research.
From the press release: “2015 marks 70 2015 marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. When war broke out in 1939, women embarked on a continuous process of change and adaptation. For some, including Miller herself, the war brought a form of emancipation and personal fulfillment, but its many privations caused widespread suffering. Miller’s photography of women in Britain and Europe during this period reflects her unique insight as a woman and as a photographer capable of merging the worlds of art, fashion and photojournalism in a single image.
“Lee Miller: A Woman’s War will trace Miller’s remarkable career as a photographer for Vogue Magazine and for the first time will address her vision of gender. Miller was one of only four female professional photographers to be accredited as US official war correspondents during the Second World War.
Recognised today as one of the most important female war photographers of the twentieth century, through her work Miller offers an intriguing insight into the impact of conflict on women’s lives, detailing their diverse experiences and her own world view.
“Comprising four parts, this exhibition will document Miller’s evolving vision of women and their lives as she travelled between countries before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
Women before the Second World War considers the origins of Miller’s wartime vision of women and her evolution as a photographer in the years preceding the Second World War; drawing on early life experiences, such as childhood trauma, her brief career as a fashion model, her involvement in the Surrealist art movement, the influence of early mentors such as Man Ray, and her two marriages.
Women in Wartime Britain explains how Miller, in her new role as photographer for British Vogue,documented the gradual but inexorable transformation of women’s lives in wartime Britain between 1939 and 1944. Illustrating how wartime privation and suffering was offset, in some cases, by enhanced opportunities outside the home.
Women in Wartime Europe examines Miller’s coverage of the impact of war on women in Europe as a US official war correspondent for Vogue magazine, 1944 – 1945, highlighting the diverse and distinctive nature of women’s experience of liberation, defeat and military occupation. Here the exhibition considers the emotional and physical toll of war on women, including Miller herself, reflecting too on the capacity of war in the front line to temporarily dissolve established divisions between the sexes.
Women after the Second World War focuses on Lee Miller’s coverage of women in Denmark, Austria, Hungary and Romania in the immediate aftermath of war, contemplating the lasting legacy of war, the difficult process of recovery from wartime experiences and the adjustment to post-war changes.
The show is sponsored by Barclays and produced in collaboration with the Lee Miller Archives. See my previous post for photos and the Audio Interview I did with Hilary Roberts, Curator of Photography at IWM, and Lee Miller’s son Antony Penrose at the press preview.