arts-graphics-2007_1181145aLots to write about after a varied Easter break, which saw us doing some interesting stuff both around Cheltenham and during a couple of visits to London. However, some of it will be around for a while yet, whilst other events have an expiry date so, on the basis (or forlorn hope, perhaps), that folk are out there reading this and being inspired by it, I’ll deal with things in the order in which they’ll disappear.

I’ve probably mentioned before our disappointment at the ‘new look’ Imperial War Museum and their treatment of the main galleries, but you can’t fault their special exhibitions, even if the cost of putting them on means that they attract an entrance fee which is invariably worth every penny. The latest – and with only a couple of weeks to run – focuses on the life and work of Lee Miller. You can’t spend long dabbling in the 1940s scene without coming across her work, either as a model in the 1930s or as a photographer for Vogue in the early 40s. As a woman photographing other women, she had a way of capturing them that few of her era could match, and when she decided to turn that skill to documenting the impact of war on women, both military and civilian, the results painted an intensely human picture of the nature of conflict.

web Fire Masks, London, England 1941 by Lee Miller (3840-9)In the early part of the war, acting as a Vogue reporter, she principally recorded the women’s contribution to the war effort. Whilst essentially propagandist in nature, her photographs managed to maintain the sense that these were real people who, when Lee had finished, would carry on with the job that they were there to do. As the war progressed, and the USA entered the conflict, Miller seized on the opportunity to don battledress by declaring herself a War Correspondent (and it seems to have been that simple at the time!). She astounded her colleagues, who were used to working with a woman as glamorous as her subjects, prone to hypochondria and used to comfort in all things. Overnight, she became immersed in the rigour of the frontline, travelling for days in a bumpy jeep, sharing only rudimentary ablutions, and dismissing any minor ailment as irrelevant. Her skill and dedication took her as close to the front as any, including the aftermath of D Day in field hospitals, and the liberation of the concentration camps, but her legacy was not to add to the exciting combat photography flooding back from Europe, but to capture the plight of those touched by war and left to live with the consequences. This allowed her to concentrate on women, both victims and perpetrators, and those who fell uncomfortably between those easy classifications. Hence the exhibition includes photographs of refugees and the dispossessed – both poor and supposedly wealthy – of prison camp survivors and guards, and of alleged collaborators. The faces look out from the expertly rendered prints and the story is written in the eyes as much as in the informative and easily-readable captions.

Lee-MillerMiller’s photographic career waned in the wake of the war when it seems a return to conventional glamour work had little appeal. She found a new career in cookery, living in the UK, and her remarkably complete archive, including not just photographs, but also notes, equipment,clothing and even items liberated from Eva Braun’s bathroom, was stored away in her farmhouse home. Fortunately, it survived unscathed and, curated by her son, has become the Lee Miller Archive and forms the basis of the IWM exhibition.

It’s only on until 24 April, but definitely merits a visit, and you can make your own mind up about the rest of the Museum which, whatever I might think, is always worth a visit. If you have time, walk there from Waterloo Station, which will give you a chance to take in The Cut, and Lower Marsh Street market before the gentrification of the South Bank reaches them. Details of the exhibition are on the Museum’s website.