Essays: Ali Smith on Lee Miller |
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Ali Smith on Lee Miller

Trying to sum up the manifold genius of Lee Miller is like trying to put your hand around a supernova that is still exploding, but Ali Smith made an impressive fist of it with her Guardian article of 2007, the year that the important Lee Miller retrospective exhibition was staged at the V&A. Ali Smith had the advantage of being able to point to an area of Lee Miller’s work that was not yet sufficiently known: the great visual artist was also a writer of considerable force, but much of her writing had lain hidden away in the limelight, as it were: writers who have their main platform in a magazine like Vogue almost always have to wait, sometimes forever, to be taken seriously. And there was so much else about Lee Miller that was bound to take precedence in the public attention: she was beautiful, she was a fashion model whose look was a key component in the style of the 1930s, she was the muse of the surrealist artists, she was a visual artist of real stature herself , the whole thing was a glamour story. Beyond that, she had taken her adventurous renown into the furthest reaches of horror as a war correspondent who went all the way to the only-just-liberated Buchenwald. In Hitler’s house, she was the angel who posed for victory, the beauty in the beast’s bathtub. Photographs of her, and photographs by her, made a screen that blocked off the light from the other thing she could do supremely well. She could write. Ali Smith started from there, and wrote a copybook article of discovery, which I can recommend without reserve to any young feature writer who feels compelled to transmit the excitement of a new admiration. This is how it’s done.

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