The most-cited image of Miller’s from the war is likely the one she didn’t take herself. Following their time in the concentration camps, Miller and Scherman went to Munich and entered Hitler’s empty apartment, where Miller staged a scene for Scherman to photograph in the bathroom (she, too, photographed Scherman in the same environment, though that picture is not widely circulated). Miller undressed and stepped into Hitler’s bathtub, upon which she had placed a photo of the Führer. The bathmat was soiled from her boots, which earlier had walked through the grounds where so many had suffered.
Miller’s expression in the photo rests somewhere between defiance and numbness. “For Scherman, it was a great journalistic coup, and it brought him fame,” wrote Judith Thurman of the image in The New Yorker. “It brought the model fame, too, though not of the kind that her war journalism deserved. That sensational moment of callous clowning after an ordeal is the image of Lee Miller that is, perhaps, best remembered.”
Miller continued to shoot the war by focusing on its aftermath in Austria, Hungary, and Romania, but by 1953, she had put photography behind her. She struggled with everything she had witnessed, and, in fact, never shared her wartime experiences or images with her son, Antony. His only exposure to his mother’s Surrealist leanings was through meeting her artist friends and her cooking: After studying at Le Cordon Bleu, Miller became known for her surreal culinary creations, such as blue spaghetti, green chicken, and Coca-Cola marshmallow ice cream.
“I think she made a deliberate decision to bury her career, and this was partly as a result of her war experiences, partly as a result of her post-traumatic stress,” said Penrose of his mother
to NPR in 2011. The entirety of Miller’s oeuvre—60,000 negatives, 20,000 prints and contact sheets, and several documents and keepsakes—was discovered in the family home’s attic after her death in 1977 at age 70. Were it not for this chance finding, her key documentation of the women of World War II, and her contributions as a Surrealist—rather than simply one of their subjects—might’ve been forgotten. It seems a fitting conclusion to Miller’s life story, which, through to the end, was as surreal as her photographs.