Lee Miller – trauma and creativity ++ Penrose

Lee Miller’s genius as a fashion and war photographer was destined to stay a footnote in art-historical journals until her son found a vast archive of her work, more than 80,000 negatives in an attic, after her death in 1977. Since then a foundation has been set up, various exhibitions held and a documentary about her extraordinary and tragic life has brought her name to prominence.

  She graced the cover of Vogue as a model when she was 20, moved to Paris and began a professional and romantic relationship with artist Man Ray, which involved her with a Surrealist and modernist circle including Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau, and Salvador Dalí. Marriage to an Egyptian produced a striking series of desert photographs and when World War 11 broke out she came to London and was instrumental in Vogue’s switch from couture to war time subjects. In 1944 embedded with the US army, she saw the first use of napalm bombing, was present at the blitz, the chaos following D-Day, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of Alsace, and liberation of Buchenwald and Dachau.

  She had her first child at 40 in 1947 and her later years in England were marred by depression and alcoholism.  Her son knew little of her life and talent and said he believed the trauma she suffered as a child, being raped aged 7 and undergoing painful treatment for a sexually transmitted disease in the aftermath, were a key to understanding her later attraction to surrealism and war photography. He said: “She held incredible secrets right through her life.’ A friend described her as “a remarkable woman, completely unsentimental, and sometimes ruthless.” Another talker of her having a “chip of ice” in her heart.

  She was born 23 April 1907 4.15 pm Poughkeepsie, New York, and had a Taurus Sun on the cusp of the secretive 8th house in an Earth Grand Trine to a 12th house Moon in Virgo trine a 4th house Mars Uranus in Capricorn. An Earth Grand Trine is practical and resourceful, a hard worker and inspired. Her Mars Uranus in the 4th opposed a 10th house Neptune Jupiter Midheaven in Cancer square Mercury in Aries which is a complex mix giving her strong creative talents from Neptune in her 10th along with luck and success in her career. In part her restless direction in life was fuelled by her self-willed and intolerant father, who by choice or chance inclined her towards a peripatetic adult domestic life. He evidently took nude photos of her when she was an adolescent which can’t have helped. Her focal point Mercury would make her eternally curious, highly-strung, restless and impatient. Her Venus in sensitive Pisces (sign of the image/photographer) was conjunct Saturn and square Pluto which may have been in part why she was drawn to the camera in her career with its ability to spread the word (Pluto in the 9th). Her photographs from Dachau were headed ‘Believe it’ as they were displayed to uninformed and disbelieving US and UK readers.

  Her creative 5th Harmonic was exceptionally strong though with overtones of brutality, which would be why she was drawn to dark subjects. Her victim/healer 12H was also marked; as was her 13H associated with exploration, genius, breaking away from the orthodox.

  When she suffered her childhood assault tr Neptune in late Cancer was conjunct her North Node with tr Pluto moving to cross her Midheaven which can be a devastating change of life’s direction.  When she photographed Dachau, after several years of seeing a litany of war time horrors, her Solar Arc Pluto was just across the conjunction to her North Node and tr Saturn was on her Midheaven. Her Node was clearly key.

  Tragically, like many who suffered damaging traumas either from rape/abuse or war, and in her case both, the risk in later life is the darkness takes over unless there is therapeutic intervention. She never had a chance to heal.

Add ON: Her second husband Roland Penrose, 14 October 1900 London, whom she met in 1939 and married in 1947 was a historian, poet and associate of the Surrealists. He was a Sun Libra trine Pluto and trine/sextile a creative Neptune opposition Saturn; with an adventurous Jupiter Uranus in Sagittarius square his Venus in Virgo and trine Mars.  He was a better match for her than Man Ray (see next post). His Venus was trine her Sun and conjunct her Moon and his Cancer Moon was conjunct her Jupiter.  

15 thoughts on “Lee Miller – trauma and creativity ++ Penrose

  1. Victims of abuse often end up courting abusers because it is what they know and makes them feel comfortable and safe. Unfortunately many do not get to the point where they need to question these strange needs in order to escape.

    In any case they need sympathy and understanding if they are ever to escape and move on.

  2. Virgoflake,

    No I haven’t heard it. Most of what I know about George Hodel came from his son Steven who is a retired homicide detective. Ironically he thought members of his family were over-reacting in their fear of the man. He was absolutely appalled at what he found, including evidence of other murders.

    John Houston, the director was also friends with George Hodel and warned his first wife and Steven’s mother that all their lives were in danger and she needed to leave. She didn’t but George did once he realised he was in danger of being charged with murder. He abandoned his family.

    • ‘Root of Evil’ explores further evidence against George Hodel uncovered when Hodel’s Great Granddaughters found their mother’s letters, diaries and tape recordings. Their mother was adopted and eventually discovered that her birth mother was Hodel’s daughter, Tamar. It reveals more secrets in the Hodel family which very much back up Steve Hodel’s theory about his father’s role in Elizabeth Short’s murder.

  3. It’s so depressing when you hear and read and take into account one’s own experiences of so many sexually focused abuses going on in childhood (as well as later in life). It’s almost a ‘rite of passage’ in a girl/woman’s life to go through these experiences in varying degrees. Is it a sick sport for self-entitled, dangerous men or something? I’m glad we are now in a situation where women are calling this out almost from the get-go.

      • I never knew that, VF.

        I did know about that Man Ray and George Hodel connection though. Maybe she became so blunted emotionally after her childhood rape that hanging around with and having relationships with men who had a dark, sinister streak was the only thing that could make her feel anything? Ultimately though, I think it continued to damage her.

        • Jo, Picasso stated that women are “machines for suffering.” He enjoyed damaging them psychologically and sexually. He shared he same obsession as Man Ray with the figure of the Minotaur, which to my mind embodies the archetypal dark destroyer and rapist which was very much part of Picasso’s make up.

          The fact that she associated with these men (Dali was also an unpleasant man), it sometimes happens that we tend to veer towards that which is familiar in childhood in our adult relationships. That and the fact that LM never received therapeutic treatment for the trauma she suffered may explain why.

          • He sounds horrific! I’ve just read a little more on him and I’m disgusted. I don’t understand how this never passed my consciousness as I was always into art and that world when growing up. However, I did take an instant dislike to Picasso’s work, so I guess I just zoned him and his life and biography out of my awareness.

            I can’t believe he would rape his muses before painting them! What an utter psycopath he was. I’m so pleased that he died completely resentful and deeply unhappy. He didn’t deserve to be content. An article questioning humanity’s delusion over celebrity recalls what he did and said:

            ‘Acquaintances of Picasso said that he would “honor” a man by stealing his wife and sleeping with her. “I would rather see a woman die than see her happy with someone else,” said Picasso, “Nobody leaves a man like me.”

            What an awful thing to be thinking about considering his position in life. He must have been a walking, talking, abusive black hole in which everything in his vicinity was sucked into it and destroyed for his own amusement. Yes, I’m happy he died bereft of happiness because he reaped what he sowed.

          • You won’t be surprised to know that Picasso had a line up of heavyweight planets in dictatorial Taurus in his 10th house, consisting of Saturn/Neptune and that ‘I can do as I like’ Jupiter/Pluto opposing his Scorpio Sun and Mercury respectively and a Sagittarius Moon opposing his Pluto. Therein could lie an indicator of his arrogance and in his art, the repeated use of the Minotaur, centaur, satyr and Bull motifs.

  4. George Hodel who many people think was the murderer of the Black Dahlia was good friends with Man Ray and is believed to have used one of his paintings for inspiration as to how she was posed at the time of her death. And evidently Man Ray and a few others lauded him for it.

    I believe that both George Hodel and Lee Miller were also friends during that period. So she most certainly didn’t stay away from the darker if not down right dangerous side of life.

  5. Just one other point, the Dada and Surrealist movements have an unusually high number of women artists. In fact I think in recent years, there has been an effort to rediscover and bring to public attention many female surrealists such as Leonora Carrington, Dorothea Tanning, Remedios Varo, etc. Interestingly, surrealist Frieda Kahlo was born just a few weeks after Lee Miller in June of the same year, has the same traumatic Mars/Uranus conjunction which is opposing her Sun/Neptune in Cancer and has an 8th house Saturn in Pisces. Similar struggle with gynaecological and mental health as Lee Miller, and likewise drawn to depicting haunting images.

  6. What happened to the ‘family friend’ who raped her? With her own father taking nude photos of her as a teenager, it sounds as if she was never safe, wouldn’t that Mars/Uranus in her 4th house reflect that?

    Venus in Pisces is the focal point of a yod in my photographer husband involving Neptune/Moon in Libra and Saturn in Leo.

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