Piece Of The Week: Women With Fire Masks // Lee Miller

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To commemorate the end of WWII, London’s Imperial War Museum has opened an exhibition celebrating the work of Lee Miller. Selene Mortimore has a look.

 

To celebrate Lee Miller: A Woman’s War, it’s only appropriate to make this week’s Piece Of The Week a Miller piece. Miller has a huge portfolio of incredible photographs, so choosing just the one was particularly difficult. The one that really stands out as something exceptional is Women With Fire Masks.

Miller had a long career involving the arts. Originally she was a model, turned Man Ray’s lover, muse and partner, to a surrealist photographer, to Vogue photographer, to WWII photographer.

If you’re not familiar with Lee Miller’s fine art photography or war photography, you may recognise Miller from being that model in Hitler’s bath tub, or you’ll recognise her lips at least if you’ve ever seen a Man Ray photograph. Miller is often not credited as much as Man Ray who was a pioneer in surrealist photography, and had a hugely interesting and complex style of photography. This style flowed through her journalistic career, giving her war documentation an edge that not all other photographers had – her photos had a flair of artistic expression and beauty amongst the horrifying subjects.

Women With Fire Masks is one of Miller’s later, war works. The photograph, intended to be a documentation of WWII, shows what London life was like for women. As well as being documentation, the photograph shows Miller’s roots of being a surrealist artist. The high contrast black and white photograph looks as though it could have been in a studio, rather than of daily life in war. The masks create a sort of unsettling feeling, and look almost theatrical. Whilst it’s actually candid, the photograph looks particularly dramatic and intriguing. This style of her documentation-based photography is what would give Miller her name as a photographer.

To see Miller’s work, head down to The Imperial War Museum in London. The exhibition is open until April 2016.

Words by Selene Mortimore

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