Lee Miller

Updated: Aug 31, 2020

A strong, surrealist & daring photographer



exhibition at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich


With the title Lee Miller – A Photographer Between War and Glamor, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich -at their Toni-Areal annexe- is hosting the first-ever exhibition in Switzerland showcasing the work of the iconic surrealist American photographer, displaying about 200 original pieces.


Curated by Karin Gimmi -and co-curated by Daniel Blochwitz- the exhibition at the Toni-Areal transports you through space and time, taking you along her journeys, to see what she saw through her lens and puts you in and out of all of her shoes -her high heels, her WWII boots and her comfy farm flats-.


...and you even get to take home some of her surrealistic cooking recipes.


A moving blend of art and photojournalism. Her surrealistic signature is patent in the composition of her photographs.


You can visit -and experience- the exhibition from today, Friday, August the 28th until January the 3rd, 2021. It is not allowed to take pictures. The exhibition is recommended for 16 years old and above.



Elizabeth "Lee" Miller (April 23, 1907, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA - July 21, 1977, Chiddingly, UK) started her career in New York as a fashion model in the 1920s. In the 1930s, Lee transitioned into photography. In 1929, Lee moved to Paris and joined the surrealist movement and the also American painter and photographer Man Ray. They lived together for three years becoming his pupil, collaborator, muse, and lover. Together, they developed and explored the solarisation photography technique.


In 1932, Lee left Paris -and Man Ray- and returned to New York where she set up a photography studio with her younger brother, Erik.


In 1934, Lee married Egyptian businessman, Aziz Eloui Bey, and moved to Cairo to live with him. There she captured ancient monuments, the pyramids, the desert, and villages. During this period, she used to travel on her own to Paris, and during one of those trips, in 1937, she met the British Surrealist artist Roland Penrose. They fell in love and travelled together across Europe.


In 1939, Lee moved to London, leaving Bey and her Egyptian season behind. There, she captured London during and after the German Blitz.


In the 1940s, during World War II, she embraced photojournalism, becoming the official war photographer for Vogue. Accredited as a war correspondent with the U.S. Army, she travelled to France a few weeks after D-Day and followed the 83rd Infantry Division as it advanced on the front lines.


Lee recorded the first use of napalm at the siege of St. Malo, as well as the liberation of Paris -her reunion with Pablo Picasso-, the Battle of Alsace, and the monstrosity of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.


Documenting war as historical evidence became her goal. In her words, “[being a great photojournalist is] a matter of getting out on a damn limb and sawing it off behind you.”


After the war -suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder- she returned to London -and to Roland Penrose- and continued being active in photography, taking portraits of artists and writers.


In 1947, Lee and Roland got married, and at the age of 40, she gave birth to her son, Antony. Soon after, they left London and moved to Farley Farm House in East Sussex, where they hosted friends -key figures from the surrealism and modernism- like Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and many others.


The Farley Farm House in East Sussex was the stage for her final -and most humorous- photo-essay for Vogue, “Working Guests” published in July 1953.


In the 1950s, Lee left her camera behind, boxed up her negatives in the attic and took on gourmet cooking and experimented creating surrealist dishes.


Lee died of cancer in 1977, aged 70. After her death, her son Anthony discovered thousands of her negatives and prints and took on the mission of making them known.


Strong, surrealist and daring, Lee’s life was as amazing as her photographs.



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