Having made her name of a fashion model in America, Lee Miller arrived in Paris in the late 1920s, determined to become a photographer. She became Man Ray’s apprentice and from 1929 to 1932 was his muse, companion and artistic collaborator.
Single again in the summer of 1929 following his break-up with Kiki, on the eve of his departure for his summer holidays in Biarritz with his patrons the Wheelers, Man Ray went for a farewell drink at his favourite bar in Montparnasse Le Bateau ivre on the Boulevard Raspail. The owner of the bar introduced him to Lee Miller who declared to Man Ray, “My name is Lee Miller and I’m your new student.” Man Ray replied “I don’t have students and besides, I am leaving for Biarritz tomorrow.” “So am I” she retorted impulsively. Thus began their 3 year affair.
Together they explored the possibilities of solarisation photography (discovered by chance in the darkroom when a mouse ran over her foot and she accidently switched on the lights). Lee’s captivating beauty inspired some of Man Ray's most famous photographs and paintings during the three years they were together.
Lee soon become known as an accomplished photographer in her own right, setting up her own studio to do portraits and fashion work. A free spirit and an independent, modern woman, Lee Miller split from Man Ray and left for New York in December 1932. Around this time, Man Ray wrote to her: “You are so young and beautiful and free, and I hate myself for trying to cramp that in you which I admire most.” (quoted in Carolyn Burke, Lee Miller, A Life, New York, 2005, p. 89).
In this rare, possibly unique, print, Lee Miller sports a sponge necklace during their visit to the South of France in the winter of 1930-31. Man Ray’s portraits of Lee Miller are arguably considered to be among his finest. In the present composition, he portrays her modern elegance with a Surrealist twist – she appears to be supporting the weight of a bulky sponge necklace, which was of course very light.
Fig. 1: Man Ray, Lee Miller, 1929, silver print (Wilson Centre for Photography)
Fig. 2: Man Ray, Lee Miller, Juan-les-Pins, 1930-31, silver print (The Penrose Collection)
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