Women In Wartime, Lee Miller

Last year, I wrote and performed a show for the Dali Museum on the subject of Lee Miller, who photographed the atrocities of World War II.

As I listen to coverage of the current war in Ukraine, I realize how many women are reporting from that area. We don’t see it as so very unusual on media outlets like CNN or NPR for women to be present in the theatre of war. Not so in WWII, when the sight of a woman in areas of conflict was rare and shocking.

One of the great experiences I have had as a writer/researcher/dramaturg has been the compilation of information and the subsequent companion piece I created for the Dali exhibition on the life and work of Lee Miller. Today, as I view the images of horror and atrocity from Ukraine, I am reminded of the photographs Miller took in the wreckage of Europe during the conflict of WWII and after the defeat of Hitler. What is so jarring is the similarities therein.
In this kind of unholy violence, it is the dead who speak to us most pointedly. The descriptions of these scenes today echo the words Miller wrote in the 1940’s.

In France, in town called St. Marlo, Lee shot photos while she listened to airplane noise swell in the air.

It sounded like the air had sounded in London- and in that she moment knew.

Bombs plunged into the citadel:

Direct hit.

Swallowed by smoke.

Mushrooming. Towering.

Like Vesuvius.

I sheltered in a dugout, squatting under the ramparts.

My heel ground into a dead, detached hand and I cursed the Germans for the sordid, ugly destruction they had conjured up in this once beautiful town. I picked up the hand and hurled it across the street  and ran back the way I’d come, bruising my feet and crashing into the unsteady piles of stone, slipping in blood.

Christ, it was awful.

It is a remarkable testament to Vogue that they published Lee’s stories and photos. People would see that this happened. Lee wrote:

I implore you to believe that this is true.

Many of Lee’s friends were missing. Poets. Artists. Journalists.                                                                                        She saw them in the faces of the dead she encountered everywhere.

I can only imagine that these thoughts are not unlike those of today’s journalists as they navigate the violence wrought on the Ukrainian people.

Funny thing is, though- in the eight decades since Miller photographed Europe, we (as Americans) have become desensitized to tragedy because it is still so far away. We can feel sympathy, but not empathy. We can watch the destruction and death on CNN while we compile a grocery list. We cannot muster any more than this for the images of the casualties of racism, fear and ignorance in our country.

I implore you to believe that this is true.


I am including images taken by Lee Miller during the final days of WWII. What do you see?

Lee Miller – WW2 Image


Lee Miller – WW2 Image
Lee Miller – WW2 Image
Lee Miller – WW2 Image

Become a Creative Pinellas Supporter