Lee Miller and the nurses of the Second World Conflict


In an article for British Vogue printed in 1943, the American battle photographer Lee Miller detailed – usually with dry wit – her observations of the lives of nurses at a US Military base in Oxford: “They aren’t forbidden, however not inspired, to marry. They might not serve in the identical unit as their husbands, nor keep within the Service or battle zone if they begin a child. They might solely exit with officers or civilians. They don’t get a ration of silk stockings.” 

It was the peak of the battle effort, and Miller, a longtime vogue photographer, had been newly accredited as battle correspondent for Vogue. As one in every of only a few ladies to doc the battle, she was eager to document the contributions of girls in each phrases and footage for posterity, arriving in London in 1939 to cowl occasions such because the Blitz. The primary images Miller took of nurses in Oxford for Vogue reveal their each day lives and duties – however with uncommon framing and unconventional particulars: in a single picture, dozens of empty gloves cling eerily on stands as they’re sterilised; in one other, uniforms cling to dry in entrance of a window, taking part in on the diaphanous textures and suggestive formal qualities of the pure mild. They are amongst a collection of little-known pictures of nurses taken by Miller throughout the second world battle introduced at an exhibition on the Fitzrovia Chapel in London from 11 Might to five June.

The US Military nurses’ billet at Churchill Hospital, Oxford, in 1943 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2022. All proper reserved

As soon as one in every of New York’s most in-demand vogue fashions (showing on the duvet of Vogue in 1927) Miller moved behind the lens on the finish of the 1920s. In 1929 she relocated to Paris to pursue her profession in images, the place she turned the collaborator after which lover of Man Ray – lots of Miller’s early works are sometimes mistakenly attributed to Man Ray.

The celebratory and trendy nurse pictures “symbolize an actual cross-section of how Lee labored”, says Hannah Watson, curator of the exhibition and chair of the board of trustees of the Fitzrovia Chapel. “They vary from stunning pictures, which present her wonderful use of sunshine and composition, to displaying ladies at work, which illustrate her curiosity in ladies as topics. There are additionally hard-hitting, heartbreaking pictures – which present her fearlessness.”

Nurses wash in basins outside their tents
The ablution quadrangle within the nurses’ quarters at 44th Evacuation Hospital close to La Cambe, Normandy, in 1944 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2022. All proper reserved

“Engaged on the choice and inspecting Lee’s work round nurses related a variety of dots,” agrees Lee’s granddaughter Ami Bouhassane, who runs the Lee Miller Archives, and seems within the exhibition in audio kind, in a collection of recordings of Miller’s Vogue articles. “She felt passionately about doing her bit, and was additionally extraordinarily pushed, past what was anticipated for a lady’s journal, in wanting to point out what ladies had been contributing to the battle effort.” Her images of the top of the battle, together with the siege of Saint Malo, the liberation of Paris, and the focus camps of Buchenwald and Dachau, turned her most well-known wartime pictures, however her portraits of nurses throughout Europe – together with German prisoner of battle nurses, and people on the entrance in subject hospitals in France – have remained unexplored.

The audio enriches the narrative and Miller’s private experiences. One excerpt recounts “the primary actual meal which the nurses and medical workers had had in 30 days. It was sizzling bully-beef, tinned peas, tomatoes, peaches. We ate on white enamel plates, drank from shallow six inch basins, caught our breath, and requested questions.”

“Lee writes with such grit and honesty, it’s as if you’re there in her head together with her,” Bouhassane says. “Once I learn her manuscripts, I felt I’d touched one other dimension of who she was.”

A nurse dries rubber gloves on wooden stands
A nurse drying sterilised rubber gloves at Churchill Hospital in 1943 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2022. All proper reserved

To coincide with the exhibition – which additionally marks the event of Worldwide Nurses Day on 12 Might – a luxurious new platinum print version of “US Military nurse drying sterilised rubber gloves, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, England, 1943” shall be out there as an version of 10 on the exhibition and shall be a spotlight at Sotheby’s Images sale (from 13 to 19 Might) the place it will likely be auctioned with the destructive.

Proceeds of the sale shall be donated to help the work of each the Fitzrovia Chapel and the Lee Miller Archives. As Watson says: “[The pictures] present the spectrum of life and battle by way of a girl’s perspective which feels reflective and nuanced, however very emotive.” In tandem with the exhibition, the print and the destructive – each on show at Sotheby’s in the course of the public sale in Might – symbolize a chunk of worldwide historical past and protect a particular, refined a part of Miller’s visionary oeuvre that’s usually neglected.

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