Lee Miller was an American photographer. Born in New York she was introduced to photography by her father, Theodore Miller, an engineer, inventor and businessman at an early age. She was his model – with many stereoscopic photographs taken of a teenage Lee in the nude – and he also showed her technical aspects of the art.
At age 19, she was noteworthy by the publisher of Vogue, Condé Nast, thus launching her modeling career when she appeared on the cover of the edition of March 15, 1927. For the next two years she was one of the most sought-after models in New York, photographed by leading fashion photographers including Edward Steichen, Arnold Genthe, Nickolas Muray and George Hoyningen-Huene. A photograph of Miller by Steichen was used to advertise Kotex menstrual pads, causing a scandal and ending her career as a fashion model.
In 1929, Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his model and co-collaborator, as well as his lover and muse. In Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Man Ray's fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. In fact, many of the photographs taken during this period and credited to Man Ray were actually taken by Miller. Together with Man Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation. She was an active participant in the surrealist movement. Amongst her circle of friends were Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard, and Jean Cocteau.
In 1932 she briefly returned to New York and established a portrait and commercial photography studio where she was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York. In 1933, Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life. In 1934, she abandoned her studio to marry Egyptian businessman, Aziz Eloui Bey. Although she did not work as a professional photographer during this period, the photographs she took while living in Egypt, are regarded as some of her most striking surrealist images. By 1937 has returned to Paris, where she met the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose, whom she later would marry.
At the outbreak of World War II, Miller was living in London with Roland Penrose when the bombing of the city began. Ignoring pleas from friends and family to return to the US, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue, documenting the Blitz. Miller was accredited into the U.S. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942. She teamed up with the American photographer David E. Scherman, a LIFE correspondent on many assignments. Miller traveled to France less than a month after D-Day and recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, as well as the liberation of Paris, the battle for Alsace, and the horror of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. A photograph by Scherman of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler's apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller–Scherman partnership. She was investigated by the British security service MI5 during the 1940s and 50s, on suspicion of being a Soviet spy
After the war, she continued to work for Vogue for a further two years, covering fashion and celebrities. After returning to Britain from central Europe, Miller started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression. She began to drink heavily. In 1946, she traveled with Roland to the United States, where she visited Man Ray in California. She was pregnant with her only son, Antony born in 1947. In 1949, they are back in England and settle in East Sussex. During the 1950s and 1960s, Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Man Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst.
Miller died from cancer at Farley Farm House in Chiddingly, East Sussex, in 1977, aged 70. She was cremated, and her ashes were spread through her herb garden at Farley Farm House. Throughout her life, Miller did very little to promote her own photographic work and is known today mainly due to the efforts of her son, who has been studying, conserving, and promoting his mother's work since the early 1980s.