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The Modeling Years

Self Portrait in Headband
Lee Miller
Self Portrait in Headband, 1932
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2008. All rights reserved.
An internationally renowned beauty, Miller was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and studied theater and lighting design at Vassar College before moving to Manhattan, where a chance encounter with publishing magnate Condé Nast opened up a career in modeling. She began posing for such photographers as Arnold Genthe and Edward Steichen and her image appeared in magazines including Vogue and Vanity Fair. With her cropped hair, luminous eyes, and fresh complexion, Miller's looks embodied the ideal of the modern twentieth-century woman.

Ready for a new challenge, she traveled to Paris in 1929 where she boldly declared herself the new student of artist Man Ray, quickly becoming his apprentice, muse, and lover. The pair collaborated closely over the next few years, as Miller learned studio, darkroom, and finishing work, rediscovering with Man Ray the forgotten Sabbatier effect, a technique of solarization in which positive and negative tones reverse along the outline of a subject, creating a dreamlike, halo appearance. Man Ray promptly adopted his darkroom error as a surrealist ploy, using it to transform selected photographic subjects into glowing, radiant beings. Miller absorbed these darkroom lessons as well as the spirit of Surrealism and began using them to develop an independent career, producing elegant abstract images and fashion photography.