American-British photographer Lee Miller (1907-1977) had quite a resume. Here is a short list of her occupations: fashion model, artist’s model, fashion photographer, art photographer, photo journalist, chef, and food writer. She was muse to and collaborator with the artist Man Ray, both part of the Parisian surrealist movement. A stunning beauty, her lips inspired Man Ray’s 1936 painting Observatory Time:The Lovers and her breasts were used as a model for a champagne glass. Her beauty was matched by her talent. After successful careers as a studio and fashion photographer, she took combat photos during World War Two. Among her other accomplishments, she photographed the liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau.
After the war, Miller’s life changed. Married to British artist, writer, and collector Ronald Penrose, she moved to the countryside in East Sussex and began to devote herself to cooking. As she aged, she struggled with changes in her face and body. Her solution was to retreat from the world of fashion altogether. According to her biographer Carolyn Burke, “she sometimes appeared in public with a pink net toilet seat cover on her head, her preferred headgear in the kitchen, she explained, because it protected her hair from grease.”(Carolyn Burke, Lee Miller: A Life, 325).
There is no trace of that eccentric woman in this 1969 photograph, taken when she was about sixty two. Her clothes look current and her arms trim. Although her face probably had more texture than she wanted, her lips do not look all that different than they did in May Ray’s painting.