Women in wartime

Women in wartime

A new exhibition presents the work of groundbreaking female photographer Lee Miller

The Imperial War Museum’s latest exhibition delves into the story behind one of the most celebrated female wartime photographers. Lee Miller: A Woman’s War looks at the impact of the Second World War on women’s lives and the merging of art, fashion and photojournalism.

Alongside Miller’s photographs there will be displays of historical artwork, costumes, objects and personal ephemera. Curator Hilary Robert talks us through this remarkable exhibition.

This year marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. Why is it important to showcase Lee Miller’s work now?

Lee Miller’s coverage of the Second World War reminds us of the importance of the role played by women during the war as well as the pioneering work of Lee Miller and other female photojournalists of the day.  Today, we take the presence of female correspondents in a war zone for granted. But Lee Miller was one of the first women to address the challenges of this field.

Lee Miller, FFI Worker, Paris, France, 1944. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2014. All rights reserved.

A lot of the artefacts presented have never been seen before. What can visitors expect to see at the exhibition?

The exhibition will feature 150 photographs of women by Lee Miller, many never seen before.  They will be contextualised by portraits by Picasso, Man Ray and others, film and sound recordings featuring Lee Miller herself, and objects and ephemera used or worn by Lee Miller during the war.

There is an undoubted shake-up in the feminist movement in our contemporary society. What can both women and men learn from Lee Miller’s images about the way women were presented during wartime conditions?

Lee Miller’s photographs show how women’s wartime roles (including that of Lee Miller herself) evolved in response to the demands of war.  At moments of desperate fighting, such as the London Blitz or the liberation of Europe, Miller’s photographs reflect the narrowing of the gender divide and suggest a close, more equal collaboration.

Lee Miller, Anna Leska, Air Transport Auxilliary, Polish pilot flying a spitfire, White Waltham, Berkshire, England 1942. © Lee Miller Archives, England 2014. All rights reserved.

Do you think that Lee Miller, as a woman, presented the women she photographed during the wartime period differently to how a male might have done so?

As a woman who was also an accredited war correspondent, Lee Miller was able to photograph women with a particular intimacy and insight.  She was able to access, recognise and document moments - such as a servicewoman changing uniforms – which a male photographer could not (or would not) have been able to photograph.  Her insight enabled her to recognise things – such as a French woman styling her hair as a form of resistance to the German occupation, which a male photographer might not.

Lee Miller: A Woman’s War opens at IWM London on 15 October 2015. The exhibition is accompanied by a major illustrated book Lee Miller: A Woman's War by Hilary Roberts, featuring 156 illustrations and is published by Thames & Hudson on 5 October 2015, £29.95.

iwm.org.uk

  • Words: Rebecca Parker

  • Photography: © Lee Miller Archives, England 2014. All rights reserved [Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum]