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The War Years

Dead SS Guard in the Canal
Lee Miller
Dead SS Guard in the Canal, 1945
© Lee Miller Archives, England 2008. All rights reserved.
In 1942 Miller became one of a handful of accredited female war correspondents, and the only woman photojournalist active in combat areas. She photographed medical teams working frantically to save the wounded shortly after the D-Day invasion, and the liberation of Paris in 1945 for the pages of British Vogue. As the war came to its conclusion, Miller traveled east to Luxembourg, Belgium and into Germany where she published shocking first-hand accounts of the concentration camp at Dachau, and disturbing images of Hitler's abandoned flat in Munich. The images Miller captured in war's immediate aftermath reflected a disturbing, surrealistic juxtaposition of horror and banality, including her photograph of a dead SS officer submerged in the shallow waters of a canal; the personal effects found on the desktop in Hitler's Munich apartment; or the pale face of an infant dying of starvation in Vienna, its face framed by crisp white blankets. These images and her wartime experiences affected Miller profoundly and continued to her haunt her until the end of her life.

In the postwar years Miller continued to work for British Vogue, whose highly talented staff included Cecil Beaton, Norman Parkinson, and Irving Penn contributing from New York. Miller herself seemed to grow disenchanted with the world of fashion photography, perhaps exhausted by her prolific output during the war. In September 1947 she gave birth to a son, Antony, and in 1949 she moved with her husband Roland Penrose to Farley Farm in Sussex. Here she embraced her newfound domesticity with the same imaginative zeal and surrealistic sense of humor that had marked earlier phases of her life, entertaining a stream of art-world friends and colleagues. Her final photographic contribution to British Vogue was the photo essay Working Guests, published in 1953, in which she describes efforts to put her well-known houseguests to work at various tasks around the farm—among them Max Ernst, Saul Steinberg, and Richard Hamilton.