Lee Miller, photographer and photojournalist, was the only female combat photographer in Europe during World War II and the first female photojournalist to bear witness to the horrors of the German concentration camps.
Miller was raped at the age of seven by her father and was infected with gonorrhea. She then became the object of her father’s voyeurism. He photographed her nude until she left home at age nineteen to work as a model for Vogue Magazine. Miller’s modeling assignment led to an interest in photography.
In 1929, she moved to Paris to study with the Surrealist photographer Man Ray. She became his muse. As lovers, they worked side by side in his studio where she learned his progressive photographic techniques. However, it was she who discovered the process of solarization by which a negative is exposed to light in the darkroom. This allowed for the negative to be manipulated chemically and not altered by cutting or scratching. It was as if they had created a new medium altogether. In 1932, she participated in the “Modern European Photographers” exhibition in New York and also had her first and only solo exhibition.
During World War II, Miller served as correspondent for Vogue, the magazine for which she had once modeled. Her images of the London Blitz and Britain under siege were featured in the 1941 book, “Grim Glory.” She also documented the liberation of Paris and the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. On April 29, 1945, she entered newly liberated Dachau and photographed the evidence of the Nazis’ extermination of Jews and other enemies of the Third Reich in starkly accurate photographs.
Miller afterwards photographed dying children in a hospital, post-war peasant life, corpses of Nazi officers, and the execution of Prime Minister Laszlo Bardossy. During her life, Miller did little to promote her own photography, It is through the efforts of her son Anthony Penrose that her work is known today.