A portrait of Lee Miller, the American cover girl and war photographer whose wild spirit captivated Picasso, Cocteau, and other eminences in 1930s Paris.
Readers meet Lee in 1966, at the farm where she retreated with her British husband, a painter and curator, after documenting Nazi atrocities and the liberation of Europe as Vogue’s war correspondent. She’s forgotten the old boxes of photoprints she heaved up to the attic—including the one of her posing in Hitler’s bathtub—and now writes mainly about food, brilliantly, though she drinks so heavily she misses deadlines. She’s expecting to get sacked when her editor suggests taking a pause to write about her years in Paris as Man Ray’s student and about some of his photos from that time. “The woman’s touch….A story only you can tell.” Cornered, Lee accepts—with one caveat: not his photos, hers. And what a story! It starts with Lee’s first glimpse of Ray at a surrealist orgy she’s dragged to by new acquaintances. After modeling couture for some of the best photographers in New York, she’s just 22 and come to the Left Bank to make art. The only male in the room wearing a suit, Ray rescues her from their leering host and invites her to drop by his studio. That Ray, who is close to 50, doesn’t come on to her means the world given Lee’s history—raped by a family friend as a young child and ogled by powerful men ever since. She’s not interested in posing, as he assumes, but makes herself indispensable by keeping him on schedule and showing his posh clients how to relax in front of a camera—a skill she acquired while posing au naturel for her weird-but-loving father, an amateur shutterbug. She’s mildly obsessed by Ray’s girlfriend, Kiki, the local chanteuse and artist’s model whom Ray has photographed nude many times. But Kiki is history the day Ray shows Lee how to print off her first photograph—the nape of a woman’s neck, her fingers scratching the skin—taken with the Rolleiflex camera he helped her buy. Later, as she thinks back on what they gave and took from each other, she’ll wonder which of them was more destroyed. Scharer sets her viewfinder selectively, focusing on her heroine’s insecurities as much as her accomplishments as an artist; her hunger to be more than “a neck to hold pearls, a slim waist to show off a belt” is contrasted with her habit of solving problems by simply leaving. The price for Lee is steep, but it makes for irresistible reading.
Sexy and moving.