Elizabeth “Lee” Miller, Lady Penrose (1907 – 1977), was an American photographer and photojournalist. She was a fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became a fashion and fine art photographer.
Miller’s father introduced her and her brothers to photography at an early age. She was his model – he took many stereoscopic photographs of his nude teenage daughter – and he also showed her technical aspects of the art.
Aged 19 she nearly stepped in front of a car on a Manhattan street but was prevented by Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue. This incident helped launch her modeling career.
In 1929, Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his model and collaborator (announcing to him, “I’m your new student”), as well as his lover and muse. While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting. In fact, many of the photographs taken during this period and credited to Ray were actually taken by Miller.
She was a participant in the surrealist movement, with her witty and humorous images. Amongst her circle of friends were Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard, and Jean Cocteau.
After leaving Man Ray and Paris in 1932, she returned to New York City and established a portrait and commercial photography studio with her brother Erik as her darkroom assistant.
In 1933, Julien Levy gave Miller the only solo exhibition of her life.
In 1934, Miller abandoned her studio to marry the Egyptian businessman and engineer Aziz Eloui Bey.
By 1937, Miller had grown bored with her life in Cairo and returned to Paris, where she met the British surrealist painter and curator Roland Penrose, whom she later would marry. Also in 1934, Miller contributed an object to the Surrealist Objects and Poems exhibition at the London Gallery. Four of her photographs were displayed at the 1940 exhibition Surrealism To-Day at the Zwemmer Gallery in London. The following year her work was included in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exhibition Britain at War in New York City. Her photographs were not included in another exhibition until 1955, when her work was displayed in the renowned The Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen, the director of the MoMA Department of Photography.
At the outbreak of World War II, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue, documenting the Blitz.
After returning to Britain from central Europe, Miller started to suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression and what later became known as Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In 1946, she traveled with Penrose to the United States, where she visited Ray in California. After she discovered she was pregnant by Penrose with her only son, she divorced Bey and married Penrose.
In 1949, the couple bought Farley Farm House. During the 1950s and 1960s, Farley Farm became a sort of artistic Mecca for visiting artists such as Picasso, Ray, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, Jean Dubuffet, Dorothea Tanning, and Max Ernst. While Miller continued to do the occasional photo shoot for Vogue, she soon discarded the darkroom for the kitchen, becoming a gourmet cook.
She died at the age of 70 due to cancer.