Black+White Photography

I’d rather take a photograph than be one

The extraordinary life and work of Lee Miller is explored in a book and a new film starring Kate Winslet. Jon Stapley reports on a photographer who always looked for the next adventure.
Image: ©Lee Miller Archives, Untitled (Man and tar), Paris, France, c. 1930

‘Oh, darling, aren’t you excited?’

Those were the words a shining-eyed Lee Miller exclaimed to her lover Roland Penrose as German bombs rained on London and anti-aircraft guns clattered around their ears. Penrose found the question bizarre, but for Lee Miller it made perfect sense.

She was a woman who always looked for the next adventure, seizing impulsively upon new flights of fancy, which she affectionately referred to as her ‘jags’. She lived to be in the thick of things, and the possibility of being blown up was a small price to pay for it.

Lee Miller was many things: a war photographer, a surrealist, a traveller, an artist, a model, a writer. Hers is a challenging story to piece together, a task that was ably taken on by her and Roland’s son Antony Penrose, whose book The Lives of Lee Miller forms the basis of Lee, a forthcoming biopic starring Kate Winslet. A new book, Lee Miller: Photographs, tells Miller’s story through her photography – one of her longest-lasting jags. It’s the perfect lens through which to try to understand a complex woman who famously stated, ‘I’d rather take a photograph than be one.’


Read more about Miller’s extraordinary life and war photography in issue 285 of B+W.

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