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Gotta be honest here: I was thinking about writing a book about Lee Miller, so I was starting to read a little bit about her here and there. This biography is pretty complete, and it’s so faceted it’s amazing. Burke did a hell of a job, and I’m going to move onto her bio of Mina Loy next, I was so impressed with her work on this one. I completely hated Lee Miller in the first third of the book when she is a Vogue model and a muse for Man Ray; fell in awe of her in the second act when she becomes
Still finishing this (about 20 pages to go), but I can only recommend this as a tub or beach read. In the first place, Miller was a remarkably captivating personality and an exceptional photo-journalist, but she was no pioneering figure of 20th Century art and photography. She was lazy, opportunistic, derivative and something of a gadfly socially and professionally. Her pre-WWII work is often beautiful (Cf her Egyptian period), and she was a justifiably popular fashion and portrait photographer.
The second reason that I cannot recommend this as a serious biography of Miller is that while Carolyn Burke is clearly an exhaustive researcher and takes great pains to connect the development of Miller’s work with her life, she doesn’t seem to know or be interested in photography. She doesn’t seem to understand the photographic process and isn’t always very adept at communicating Miller’s images. This is a pity as several are discussed, but not reproduced. Equally, Burke repeatedly implies she enjoyed some kind of insider status as Miller’s biographer. Fair enough, if she really knew her. However, I can’t help but think that if Burke had, she would have been able to examine Miller’s life and career more intelligently. Instead, one is irritatingly confronted with often unsubstantiated and random references to Miller’s sex life and drinking habits. As the biography progresses, these references appear less as comments in context, and increasingly as creepy, and frankly, bitchy assumptions.
ETA: Finished this now. Fascinating woman, but wow. Her later life was really a waste of her gifts. So apparently spent it largely in entertaining at Farley Farm. And no, Burke apparently did not know Miller and met her only once by accident in Venice near the end of her life. Figures.