70 years ago today
Lee Miller in Hitler's bathtub
LEE MILLER was a beautiful girl from Poughkeepsie, New York, who landed a gig modelling for Vogue and wound up in Paris hobnobbing with Surrealists and dating Man Ray. She wanted to be a photographer, not a model, though, so he taught her to take pictures. After she left him he spent 40 years making metronomes with a cut-out photo of her eye on the ticker. She became a fashion photographer, married an Egyptian millionaire, then dumped him as well. On a Greek island she met an English poet; she would marry him after the war and settle down on a farm in Sussex, inviting her old friends Picasso and Ernst over for weekends.
But that would be later. Now it is 1945, and she is a photojournalist travelling with the American army. She has shot a gory field hospital in Normandy and been caught under German fire at St Malo. She and her boyfriend, David Scherman, both working for LIFE Magazine, have photographed a concentration camp and are wandering around Munich. They have stumbled on Adolf Hitler's apartment there. She has an idea.
How they set it up. She cannot be shown nude (this is LIFE, not Man Ray); a figurine on the table does the trick. In front of the bath, her combat boots, "the dust of Dachau still on them" according to Scherman. And at the back on the left, the portrait. It is a voodoo gesture, the sort her Surrealist friends would approve of, an all-American blend of sass, violence and sex. Nuts to you, Führer! I am naked in your bath with my Jewish lover, we are taking your picture's picture, we are stealing your life-force. The date is April 30th, 1945. In a bunker under Berlin, Hitler places a gun to his head.