A new major exhibition of 150 photographs depicting women’s experience of the Second World War by acclaimed photographer Lee Miller has opened at The Imperial War Museum LondonA
2015 marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. When war broke out in 1939, women embarked on a continuous process of change and adaptation. For some, including Miller herself, the war brought a form of emancipation and personal fulfillment, but its many privations caused widespread suffering. Miller’s photography of women in Britain and Europe during this period reflects her unique insight as a woman and as a photographer capable of merging the worlds of art, fashion and photojournalism in a single image.
Lee Miller: A Woman’s War traces Miller’s remarkable career as a photographer for Vogue magazine and for the first time will address her vision of gender. Miller was one of only four female professional photographers to be accredited as US official war correspondents during the Second World War. Recognised today as one of the most important female war photographers of the twentieth century, through her work Miller offers an intriguing insight into the impact of conflict on women’s lives, detailing their diverse experiences and her own world view.
Comprising four parts, the exhibition documents Miller’s evolving vision of women and their lives as she travelled between countries before, during and in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.
Women before the Second World War considers the origins of Miller’s wartime vision of women and her evolution as a photographer in the years preceding the Second World War; drawing on early life experiences, such as childhood trauma, her brief career as a fashion model, her involvement in the Surrealist art movement, the influence of early mentors such as Man Ray, and her two marriages.
Women in Wartime Britain explains how Miller, in her new role as photographer for British Vogue, documented the gradual but inexorable transformation of women’s lives in wartime Britain between 1939 and 1944. Illustrating how wartime privation and suffering was offset, in some cases, by enhanced opportunities outside the home.
Women in Wartime Europe examines Miller’s coverage of the impact of war on women in Europe as a US official war correspondent for Vogue, 1944 – 1945, highlighting the diverse and distinctive nature of women’s experience of liberation, defeat and military occupation. Here the exhibition considers the emotional and physical toll of war on women, including Miller herself, reflecting too on the capacity of war in the front line to temporarily dissolve established divisions between the sexes.
Women after the Second World War focuses on Lee Miller’s coverage of women in Denmark, Austria, Hungary and Romania in the immediate aftermath of war, contemplating the lasting legacy of war, the difficult process of recovery from wartime experiences and the adjustment to post-war changes.
Alongside Miller’s striking photographs, many of which are on public display for the first time, artworks, costume, objects, documents and ephemera will contribute to this fascinating and rarely told story.
The exhibition is accompanied by a major illustrated book, Lee Miller: A Woman’s War by the exhibition’s curator Hilary Roberts and features an introduction by Antony Penrose, Lee Miller’s son. Miller’s photographs, many previously unpublished, are accompanied by extended captions that place the images in the context of women’s roles within the landscape of war. Lee Miller: A Woman’s War was published by Thames & Hudson on 5 October 2015.
Tickets available now at iwm.org.uk
Main image: Fire Masks, Downshire Hill, London, England 1941 by Lee Miller © Lee Miller Archives, England 2015. All rights reserved.