Heart of Darkness


Photographer Lee Miller’s life was both charmed and haunted. She began as a model and muse before becoming an artist in her own right. She worked for fashion magazines, acted in Jean Cocteau’s film The Blood of a Poet, and then found herself photographing the death camps at Buchenwald and Dachau. After the Second World War she retired into obscurity, taking little care of her photographs and even hiding her previous careers from her son. Her mentor and lover Man Ray is better known, but Miller was the more accomplished artist.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is bringing her back to our attention. The museum is hosting the first major retrospective of her work, a show organized by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. The show emphasizes the extraordinary scope of Miller’s life, taking the viewer from New York to Egypt to Romania to London in the Blitz and, finally, to the Third Reich’s heart of darkness.

Miller’s interest in surrealism infused not only her fashion photography but her war pictures. These pictures are full of disorienting angles and juxtapositions, distortions and concealments of the body. In one image, we see two London women in black fire masks as they turn toward the camera: the Battle of Britain as nightmare masquerade. Surrealism is a genre in which things are always both themselves and the shadows of something larger than themselves. Perhaps it should come as no...

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About the Author

Eve Tushnet is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C. Her blog can be read here.