The French capital at the end of the 1920s was in full artistic ferment: cosmopolitan, free from bourgeois moralism, sexually open and welcoming. It was possible to bump into the artists Max Ernst, André Breton and Paul Éluard, but also fashion designers such as Paul Poiret, Coco Chanel and Lucien Lelong.
As soon as Lee Miller arrives in the city, she goes to the studio of Man Ray, the most important photographer of the time, because it is from him that she wanted to learn the art of photography.
Upon reaching the entrance to the building, the concierge informs her that the artist has just left for Biarritz and will only return in a month. Shocked by the news, Lee goes to a nearby cafe to drink a Pernod, when suddenly Man Ray appears.
Thus began the surrealist adventure of Lee Miller, who not only became Man Ray’s model and muse – as well as lover – but also established a profound artistic relationship with him, which led them to create together some of the most beautiful photographs of the era and make important technical discoveries such as solarization. The relationship between the two was always stormy and tested by Man’s jealousy and controlling behavior, which influenced the couple’s emotional and professional life. Man Ray often even appropriated many ideas and works originally created by Lee.
Miller’s style quickly became technically mature and conceptually sophisticated thanks to the many influences she received in this extraordinary period of her life. She never stopped learning, not even when she was on set as a model, an activity she continued to carry out collaborating mainly with the Vogue photographer George Hoyningen-Huene – severe and uncompromising – who established a lasting friendship with her.
In 1930, just a year after her arrival in Paris, Lee acquired the right professional confidence to open a studio in Montparnasse, immediately frequented by a rich international clientele, as well as artists, fashion designers and magazine editors. Everyone made use of her collaboration to create commercial photographs, even if the most important nucleus of works in this period was certainly that represented by surrealist images.
Lee Miller interprets the visual language of the surrealist objet trouvé in her photographic version, the image trouvé. Thanks to the skillful use of framing, she managed to select particular aspects of everyday life to create photographs that are mysterious, disturbing and alluring at the same time, the spirit of which is also reflected in the titles, often playful and ambivalent. Her gaze, in full surrealist style, elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary.
Lee’s life in this period is hectic, but in November 1932 she decides that the time has come to return to New York to start a new adventure.