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Lee Miller: On Both Sides Of The Camera

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  335 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
One of the few women to cover the Second World War, photographer Lee Miller is best remembered for documenting the liberation of the concentration camps. In this biography, Carolyn Burke examines her oeuvre, from her wartime images through to her portrait photographs.
Published October 16th 2006 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (first published November 15th 2005)
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Laurie Notaro
Nov 25, 2015 Laurie Notaro rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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. ...more
Dec 30, 2007 Maureen rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Ladies who wish to live with style, gents who like their womenfolk with elegance and grit
Coolest woman ever. Although her surrealist cooking adventures were pure Fanny Craddock.
Sep 01, 2008 Joanna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies
Although I was keen to read about the enigmatic Lee Miller, whose photographs include images of her coterie of fabulous artist friends and also harrowing images of WWII, I can't say I finished the book knowing much more about her than I had before I started it. I couldn't really make out anything about who Lee really was as a person except that she was a rather talented photographer and muse to Vogue and the Surrealist artists, and she was also a beautiful free spirit, which explains her hold ov ...more
Nov 04, 2013 Kshotwell rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-club
This was assigned reading for a book club. We found the author biased and borderline misogynistic. Where no facts were available, Ms. Burke filled in with assumption and bias. I found the book reveled in Ms. Millers tragedies, exploiting her family and youth to support the authors agenda. The author is not a psychologist or psychoanalyst, yet proceeds with deep psychoanalysis. The author does not cite any authorities or primary sources to support her thesis. If the moribund and dark tales are al ...more
Gabrielle Lawrence
Glorious and dark portrait of an extremely engaging woman, as well as an amazing glimpse at the early part of the 20th century. Miss Miller turned the light on in the dark room, creating the famous "solarization" technique so often credited to Man Ray (one of her many intriguing lovers). She was part of Picasso's inner circle and one of the greatest war photographers ever. I love her, love this book.
Jul 18, 2012 Thombeau rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
An excellent study of the fascinating model, muse, photographer, journalist, and gourmet cook Lee Miller. Impeccably researched and thoughtfully written, this book provides an insightful look at a complex and dynamic woman. Lee Miller: A Life is a riveting read, completely satisfying and highly recommended.
Mar 19, 2017 Denise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pros: This is an amazingly well researched book about an incredible life. Applaud Carolyn Burke's effort and work in turning the complex life of Lee Miller into a readable account of Miller's explosive, damaging and yet propelling journey and impact she had on society. Extremely inspiring and undeniably sad in places. Was left with a feeling of voyeurism and amazement that one person can live life like Lee Miller did. It would be interesting to read Margaret Bourke-White's biography, as they wer ...more
The definitive biography of Elizabeth/Lee Miller, a complex but fascinating individual.
Jan 24, 2008 Rick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
By any measure, Miller, the daughter of an engineer from Poughkeepsie lived a remarkable life (or series of lives): as a teenager she went to Paris and studied theater design, on her return to New York she was discovered by Conde Nast himself and became not only a Vogue model but the prototype Flapper. She returned to Paris to study photography, which she did with Man Ray, becoming his muse, mistress, and partner. She became friends with all the usual 20s and 30s Paris suspects, became a success ...more
Jan 29, 2008 Dayna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those interested in muses, surrealism, WWII photojournalists, alcoholics
Enjoyable read so far (only on ~p.100), but I am annoyed at the lack of photos. Lee Miller was, after all, a photographer, and we have to make do with some long descriptions of her photos. I realize this is probably a rights issue, and will remedy it by going onto the web and seeing what I can find. But I think the reading experience would be that much richer if we could see more of Miller's work.
I stand by my original comment. More photos, please! After getting through WWII, during which Lee wa
Dec 22, 2010 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Life changing, trance-inducing. Up there with The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

My only beef is an early description of Miller's sexual 'experience' at age 7. Why not just change that word to 'assault' and be more accurate. Given every other careful word choice in this beefsteak, this is not worth mentioning. Why do I mention it? I don't know. It's 378 pages long, and that's the only fault I can find.

The book travels from Miller's early life in PA searching for a job in theater and modeling, follo
Jan 12, 2015 Juliet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lee Miller was an exceptional woman - and this biography reveals her to be astonishing as well. Her vibrant photography was but one part of her extraordinary life. She was an accomplished chef by the time of her death in the 1970s. Carolyn Burke's style is perfect for its subject - if the book can be considered a door into Lee's life, Burke's prose provides the key without which one would just be peering through the window. Instead the reader feels as if they have travelled alongside Miller, fro ...more
Aug 22, 2016 Lora rated it really liked it
Biography, Lee Miller

Carolyn Burke knows her topic & brings a broad view of Lee Miller's wonderfully diverse life to any reader like myself who's not familiar w/this remarkable woman. Burke's interpretations of Miller's photographs are both technical & easy to understand as expressions of Miller herself. Many times in reading this bio, I wanted to know more clearly who Lee Miller was, where the motivation & strength came from to be the type of person she was in a time w/such differen
Mar 17, 2008 alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ah, women artists of the 20th century.... as usual, since it's non-fiction, I skimmed and skipped around a lot. But I did read most of it - it's well written, and Miller's life is absolutely fascinating. She had close relationships as muse, model and lover to various surrealist artists, and more importantly her own surrealist work is really good. I was most interested in the section on her WWII war photography from Germany - where she photographed the liberation of concentration camps, Nazi guar ...more
A well done biography of a multi-faceted woman. In describing the life of Lee Miller Burke also provides analysis of several of Miller's pictures and those of her. At the same time she inserts glimpses of the lives of several members of the surrealist school. Most people do not think of war correspondents being former models and writers for a woman's magazine but that was Lee Miller. She had an illustrious career but seeing war close up, including being in a battle for a town, and having photogr ...more
Jul 19, 2013 Carol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished
Fascinating insight into the life of this extraordinary woman. I first found out about her through books and exhibitions on photogaphy - one of my main interests - and in particular in connection with the solarisation technique that she and Man Ray discovered. Unlike other readers, I really enjoyed finding out more about the photography and art techniques that Lee or her friends were involved with. Writing this just after finishing the book, I'm left feeling that I learned a great deal about Lee ...more
Aug 04, 2012 Debra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves Paris and strong women
Love the story behind this artist's life . I started out only knowing about her because she was Man Ray's muse /lover / assistant . What a force of nature very supportive father a photographer in his own right . She experienced tragedy early on and still persevered in her fight to be an artist and not just a beauty . Love the pre WW 2 setting of Paris and all the crazy artists popping up . IF you appreciate surrealism this is the book for you .Her travels in Russia are fascinating and her love a ...more
Robert Flannery
Mar 09, 2016 Robert Flannery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overall, a great reliving of a life! The most surprising factoid I learned was that Elizabeth had the accident that led to solarization in photography. Man Ray refined the technique. Miller got it started. Another fact I enjoyed learning about was that she played a statue come to life in a Cocteau film, Death of a Poet. There is lots of information for Surrealism fans!

Lee Miller seemed addicted to intensity, rebellion, upset and danger. Eventually this ended in alcoholism, then cancer. She wou
Sep 11, 2007 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, art
An excellent introduction to the life and work of photographer, artist and muse Lee Miller. She's the subject of renewed critical interest after her photographs were discovered by her son Antony Penrose. 2007 is her centenary and thirtieth anniversary of her death.

After my dissertation research, there wasn't a whole lot new to me, but Burke seems to have gained access to some previously unavailable materials. The quality of the images is good overall, though I felt more could have been included
Lee Miller's life was fascinating and exotic. From an unconventional and sometimes tragic childhood in Poughkeepsie, she became - in approximately this order - a model for Vogue, a photographer for that same magazine, the lover and muse of Surrealist photographer Man Ray, and one of the first photojournalists to cover World War II (including the liberation of Dachau). And that's just the first half of her long life. While the book is meticulous in its research and the author clearly admires Mill ...more
Feb 18, 2012 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although Miller's life (or maybe more appropriately - lives) was filled with adventure, mystique, romance, and an incredible amount of creative energy, this just wasn't a great read. Often referring to photographs that are not included in the book, it was easy to feel like a complete outsider trying to imagine my way into her world. Also, the constant use of French phrases that would have been "vogue" in Miller's day but for which I needed to find translations broke momentum and distanced myself ...more
Heather D-n
I saw of a New York Times sideshow of this woman, and I'm obsessed. Unfortunately somewhere near the middle I got bogged down as Lee played a model and later sexually adventurous artist's muse to Man Ray. Things slowed even more when she married and moved to Egypt. Following that, her experiences photographing Germany and France during WWII for Vogue were interesting. Perhaps this is just envy speaking, but it seemed like she is just another stubborn, privileged, beautiful girl who happened to b ...more
Jul 30, 2008 Gail marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
While we were in San Fran, there was the most fascinating exhibit on Miller going on at the SFMOMA. Walking around and reading about her and seeing all her work, I couldn't help but wonder why I didn't know more about her already.

Talk about a fascinating figure - a muse to Man Ray, a pal of Picasso's (if he paints a portrait of you, I call that a pal!), a photographer at a time when few women got behind the camera (after first being in front) and then a photojournalist during WW2, well ... need
Jan 04, 2013 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I love biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, what have you. And while I may have been interested in learning more about Miller's life, I couldn't work my way through this book. Every time I picked it up, I inevitably would start to drift off to sleep after the third page. Burke seems to be an excellent biographer, but the story she presented was too detail heavy, at least for me. It's sad, really, because Miller seemed to be quite the character.
Apryl Anderson
Jul 27, 2011 Apryl Anderson rated it really liked it
Ms Burke makes a lot of assumptions about Ms Miller's motives that I believe would infuriate her subject. This was a life lived to the fullest extent. I won't make moral judgements, for that would limit the eternal nature of her spirit. I only regret for her sake that she was washed with the tidal wave of good and evil in her life. Had she a trustworthy anchor, I wonder to what extent she would have soared.
Jim Stogdill
Sep 17, 2010 Jim Stogdill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lee Miller lived an amazing life. Unfortunately the amazing part ended with the second world war and the book, being her life's story, continues till her death in the 70's. It was difficult to see her accept such a constrained role in life after the barriers she broke early on. Well worth the read though if you are interested in photography or the life of an artist in that amazing period from the 20's to the 40's.
Jul 07, 2008 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mom loaned this book to me. It's written by the mother of a childhood friend. I found it really interesting and could not believe I had never heard of Lee Miller before. She was one of the first female journalists/photographers in WW2 as well as a Vogue writer and model, world traveler and gourmet cook. I was a bit annoyed by the choice of photos in the book. The author included many that she never even mentioned in the text, and then failed to include others that she wrote a ton about.
Aug 03, 2012 Vickie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was not that familiar with Lee Miller, who was both a muse and an artist in her own right. She was a muse to both Man Ray and Jean Cocteau, becoming a surrealist photographer herself. She also was a war correspondent during WWII. It was interesting and I want to learn more about these people. I think I'll read about another female surrealist next - Dorothea Tanning - who was a magnificent painter and was married to Max Ernst
Feb 20, 2008 Liz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to love this book - a biography of Lee Miller I picked up after spending a delightful hour lost in her photography at the V&A - but found it a bit lacking and overly clinical. If you want to learn about this brilliant & unique woman check out her pictures (the portrait of Charlie Chaplin or her in Hitler's bathtub re my favs) or better yet read her columns from WW II (originally in Vogue Magazine, I think).
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