Dreams of Desire 35 (Lee Miller by Lee Miller)

Lee Miller-Self Portrait 1933

When British Vogue sent staff over to Man Ray’s Montparnasse studio in 1929 they were greeted by his new assistant, who was also doubling up as his receptionist, Lee Miller. She was ‘…a vision so lovely they forgot why they had come.’

Lee Miller had left her very successful modelling career in New York at the age of 21 to become a photographer in Paris, then the centre of the art world. She had set her sights on learning the craft from her fellow American, the pioneering photographer, film-maker and painter Man Ray. Approaching him in a cafe she told him her name and that she was his new student. Man Ray answered that he didn’t take students and besides he was going to Biarritz the next day. Miller answered that is where she was going too. Man Ray, unsurprisingly, was captivated and they did indeed go to Biarritz, the start of an incredibly intense artistic and romantic relationship.

Man Ray soon realised her talent and their artistic relationship was reciprocal. It was Miller who, by letting in the light on the darkroom, discovered the technique of solarization (see Dreams of Desire 31 (Solarization)) that became a Man Ray trademark. In fact it is hard sometimes to distinguish their work from this period apart, as Miller herself commented, “We were almost the same person when we were working.”

Self Portrait is from the period immediately after the bitter break-up of 1932 (see Dreams of Desire 12 (The Lovers)). The classical pose generates a muscular tension that accentuates her astounding beauty. As an aside, there exists a brand of champagne glass shaped from a mould of Miller’s left breast.


Dreams of Desire 21 (Enmeshed)

Portrait Through Wire-Man Ray 1930
A highly fetishistic portrait by the master Surrealist photographer Man Ray who in his work makes everything appear fetishistic. Portrait Through Wire first appeared in Le Surrealisme au service de la Revolution in July 1930. The wire enmeshes the body, hands (always important for Man Ray) and face is suggestive of an all over silk stocking and renders the model alluringly exotic and other. However the sadness in the eyes with their mute appeal makes us aware that the wire is also a physical barrier behind which she is trapped. Her inaccessibility paradoxically increases her erotic appeal.

Dreams of Desire 15 (Nusch by Man Ray)

Nusch Eluard -Man Ray
Nusch was Man Ray’s primary model during the mid 30’s just as Kiki De Montparnasse and Lee Miller had been in the 20’s and early 30’s. She was the perfect model for the Surrealist photographer; in turn playful, thoughtful, serene, fragile, sensual but above all mysterious.

This complexity of expression and emotion can be seen in her personal life; she could be one devoted half of the perfect Surrealist couple, fully supportive of her genius husband and at the same time the embodiment of the newly liberated, free spirited and independent woman. Nusch’s unique presence and charm could transcend all such contradictions, she always remained herself without apology or regret.

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