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Title: Wonder and horror : an interpretaion of Lee Millers Second World War photographs as "surreal documentary"
Author: Hilditch, Lynn
ISNI:       0000 0004 2698 3156
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2010
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Lee Miller (1907-1977) was an American-born Surrealist and war photographer who became the apprentice of Man Ray in Paris and later one of the few women war correspondents to cover the Second World War from the frontline. Her in-depth knowledge and understanding of art enabled her to produce intriguing representations of Europe at war that embraced and adapted the principles and methods of Surrealism. This thesis examines how Miller's war photographs can be interpreted as visual juxtapositions of Surrealist devices and socio-historical reportage-or as examples of "surreal documentary". The methodology includes close analysis of specific photographs, a generally chronological study with a thematic focus, and comparisons with other photographers, documentary artists, and Surrealists, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, George Rodger, Cecil Beaton, Bill Brandt, Henry Moore and Man Ray. In particular, Miller's photographs are explored using Andre Breton's theory of "convulsive beauty" and engaging with historical and cultural contexts. Chapter One analyses a selection of Miller's wartime fashion photographs taken for Vogue magazine and images from her book Wrens in Camera (1945). Miller suggests a connection between art and war by capturing scenes with her camera reminiscent of Surrealist works by Rene Magritte, Henry Moore and Man Ray and uses her knowledge of Surrealism to provide an insightful commentary on the roles of women in fashion and war. Chapter Two explores Miller's photographs of the Blitz that were published in Ernestine Carter's wartime publication Grim Glory: Pictures of Britain Under Fire (1941). This collection of photographs illustrates Miller's aestheticised reportage, or surreal documentary, displaying a creative interpretation of a broken city ravished by war. Not only do the photographs depict the chaos and destruction of Britain during the Blitz, they also reveal Surrealism's love for quirky or evocative juxtapositions while creating an artistic visual representation of a temporary surreal world of fallen statues and broken typewriters. In Chapter Three, Miller's war images are analysed within the context of Breton's theory of convulsive beauty, his idea that anything can be deemed beautiful, even the most disturbing or horrific of subjects, if convulsed, or willingly transformed, into their apparent opposite. In many of Miller's war photographs, particularly those taken at the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, the disturbing nature of the subject illustrates the concept of convulsive beauty when Miller uses creative composition and form to transform the subject into an artistic representation of the horrors of war. The Epilogue concludes this thesis by considering the continuing value of Miller's war photographs and establishing how her photographs can be interpreted not only as examples of surreal documentary but also as "modern memorials"- important photographic documents that can be considered as aesthetically and historically-significant representations of war. The analysis of Miller's photographs in these four chapters establishes how Miller, as a female, Surrealist photographer, was able to use her knowledge and understanding of art and art movements to juxtapose the concepts of the artistic (Surrealism) and the documentary (historical record) to create intriguing images of war through degrees of "wonder and horror".
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available