Absorb evocative and true images of World War II through the surrealist eyes of Lee Miller in “Lee Miller – Photographer of War,” now on display at the Winter Center Art Gallery. “Miller’s pictures show the reality of WWII,” said Millersville’s Assistant Professor of History, Dr. Victoria Khiterer, “When I tried to compare her pictures to the wartime pictures of other photographers, the other pictures looked more cheerful.” Dr. Khiterer provided insight on war photographers and correspondents, concentration camps, and the holocaust in front of a gathering of enthusiasts at Gallery Talk on April 26.
The photographs in this exhibit radiate a macabre beauty and elicit undefinable qualities that do well in characterizing WWII as well as the photographer. In conjunction with the “Lee Miller – Photographer of War” exhibit, performances of “Behind the Eye,” directed by Dr. Lisa Jo Epstein, will be playing though May, 5. The play depicts two versions of Miller, one when she was younger, as well as a much older depiction of her. “Performance arts and visual arts compliment each other. By combining them we can create a broader educational moment,” said Amy Ruffo, director, art galleries at Millersville University. To grasp the powerful and, at times, indescribable sensations her photographs invoke, enthusiasts must appreciate the experiences that influenced Miller’s photography.
Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, Miller flourished as a fashion model during the 1920s in New York City before moving to Paris with Man Ray, an established artist, in 1929. The ambitious duo thrived during this period, the peak of the surrealist movement, with Miller starring in Jean Cocteau’s film “Blood of a Poet,” which can still be viewed on late-night TV. Most importantly, her work with Man Ray allowed her to switch from being featured in front of the camera to producing her own images behind the camera.
After three years in Paris, Miller divorced Man Ray and moved back to New York in 1932.With the assistance of her brother Eric, her darkroom helper, she founded a commercial photography and portrait studio. Her stay in New York, which produced her first and only solo gallery in 1933, ended in 1934 when she Married Aziz Eloui, an Egyptian businessman, resulting in her relocation to Egypt. In Egypt the seeds of surrealism, planted during her stay in Paris, blossomed into photos that many consider to be her most attractive surrealist photographs. One of the images called “Portrait of Space,” captures an endless desert landscape through the ripped screen of a tent. A rectangular design dominates the image and creates perplexities when one considers the purpose of the shape. After five years the desolate Egyptian landscape left Miller feeling confined and bored. She left Eloui in 1939 to revive her sand eroded spirit and move in with Roland Penrose, a British surrealist painter and curator, in England.
Miller and Penrose were living in Hamstead, London when bombings plagued the city, signifying the start of World War II. As military men and women fought bravely in battle, Miller served alongside them as a photojournalist and official war photographer for Vogue. “Lee Miller was one of the first women photographer’s emitted into the concentration camps,” said Khiterer. She was specifically granted access to document the horrific conditions at two concentration camps, Buchenwald and Dachau. Miller would often team up with David Schermen, a LIFE reporter on assignments, one photograph taken by Scherman showed Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s apartment.
“The experience really dramatized her and she never recovered to prewar condition,” said Dr. Khiterer. Her son Anthony Penrose, Dr, Khiterer continued, said that his mother returned with shaking hands, severe depression, and post-traumatic war syndrome. The gruesome crimes of inhumanity Miller observed as a photojournalist haunted her until her death. Most of Miller’s work survives through the work of her her son, who has preserved, learned, and promoted his mother’s work since the 1980s.
Dozens of people attended Gallery Talk for “Lee Miller – Photographer of War,” presented by Dr. Khiterer. Jeremy Barr, a senior, attended Gallery Talk and offered his review of Miller’s photographs. “The photos have a grim sense of beauty. They capture real events and chronicle a dark time in human nature,” said Barr. Early Education major and Gallery Talk attendee, Kate Didrisk believes the pictures provide a realistic view of WWII, but she would have liked to seen more advertisements for the gallery. “They should advertise for things in the dinning halls, where students would be most susceptible to promotions,” said Kate Dedrisk.
“Lee Miller – Photographer of War” will be on display from April 7, 2013 through June 30, 2013 at the Winter Visual and Performing Arts Center. Monday through Friday, 1-7 p.m.; Saturday, 1-4 p.m. This event is free of charge.
“Behind the Eye” will be performed on the following dates at Rafters Theater, Dutcher Hall: April 26, 8 p.m., April 27, 8 p.m., April 28, 2 p.m., May 2, 8 p.m., May 3, 8 p.m., May 4, 8 p.m, and May 5, 2 p.m. The play is open to the public. Visit www.MUTicketsOnline.com or call 717-872-3811 for ticket information.