Poems about Photographer Lee Miller

Jacqueline Saphra has written a series of sonnets about the colourful (even in black and white) life of Lee Miller: “A bargain with the Light, poems after Lee Miller”.  This book has 17 days left to sell a few more copies to raise the sum to publish it.  It will be in a limited edition of 300, each signed by the poet, and containing photographs by and about Lee herself.

Jacqueline Saphra explains what inspired her to write the book – unfortunately the still frame chosen does not reflect the interest of what she says!

Who is Lee Miller?

Lee was a pioneer – a New York model who went to Paris to learn how to photograph with Surrealist pioneer Man Ray (whose muse she became), a Surrealist artist in her own right, together with her husband Roland Penrose they were friends of Picasso, indeed hosting him on rare visits to Britain (where their young son famously bit the artist).  Lee also knew dark times as a survivor of childhood abuse, the obssessive love of an artist and her own work as war photographer including the liberation of Dachau concentration camp whose horror marked her.  An extraordinary woman in extraordinary times.  She both observed and recorded it in her camera but lived through it in a way only she could.

War Photographer

This video (below) takes you round the very exhibition which inspired Jacqueline Saphra to write the book of poems.  Our guide for this is none other than Katie Adie, BBC war correspondent, a TV broadcast journalist with a lifetime of reporting war and its atrocities.  She was a byword for covering the most difficult and dangerous overseas assignments – “They’re sending Kate Adie in” was a jokey expression in common use –  meaning that things in an area must now have become incredibly violent and dangerous if Kate was being despatched.  Because of her own career, it’s very appropriate that Kate Adie shows us around the War Museum’s exhibition.

Lee Miller’s house and Photographic partnership with Man Ray

Anthony Penrose, son of Lee Miller, takes us around parts of the family home and explains the photographic and personal partnership of Lee and Man Ray (he is recording this specifically for a forthcoming exhibition of Man Ray’s works).


Further Creativities:


I hope that by this point you are seriously considering purchasing a copy of the book “Bargain with the Light”.  If the poems and photos intrigue you to find out more, there are a few biographies of Lee Miller


Visit Farley Farm House in Sussex, where Lee Miller lived with her husband Roland Penrose – it has a wonderful address: Farleys House & Gallery, Farley Farm, Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East Sussex, BN8 6HW

Their house had many famous artist visitors who were also friends:Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Man Ray, Leonora Carrington, Antoni Tapies, Eileen Agar, Kenneth Armitage, William Turnbull, John Craxton and Richard Hamilton  – and the house is full of paintings and photographs by not only Lee and Roland but by their visitors.  There is also a sculpture garden.

“For the most part the house is just as it was when it was occupied by the Penrose family. Lee Miller’s kitchen looks as though she has just popped out to gather vegetables from the garden and Roland Penrose’s study only lacks the aroma of his cigar smoke.” – House website



There will be a surrealist picnic at Farley House on Sunday 27th August 2017, 4-7 pm  – limited availability so you must book (£10 each) and you are encouraged to dress in a Surrealist way and bring surreal food:

Bring your own picnic, bubbly, blankets & chairs for a late summer’s evening in our beautiful sculpture garden with stunning views of the South Downs. Advance booking is necessary as tickets are limited.

Picnic Suggestions: Pink cauliflower breasts, blue pasta salad & Muddles Green green chicken.

Or what dish could you invent which would be suitably Surrealist?



You may want to feast your eyes on the house, to get inspiration for your own interior decor, colours and art.  Certainly the house is a great example of living with vast quantities of visual art and books in an interesting yet informal and at-home way.

Even if you live too far away to visit the house, Anthony Penrose has written a book The Home of the Surrealists: Lee Miller, Roland Penrose and Their Circle at Farley Farm House” (published last year, 2016)

Try writing a sonnet about someone whose life you greatly admire?

Make a Surrealist photo of a friend or a family get-together










Paul Nash, Surrealist and War Artist

Last week, I went to Tate Britain (in London) to see the current exhibition of Paul Nash’s works.Screen shot 2017-02-22 at 10.16.50.png

The exhibition has been on since October, but well worth the visit.

I have to declare a personal preference for early 20th Century art, so Nash is well within those dates.  His usual palette is a gentle natural stone washed colours (see left) – but in war, the colours of mud and burnt trees and steely grey machines came through.  For a quick overview of his work and main themes, see video below (5 mins).

What I particularly valued about this exhibition (and I would definitely recommend going to see it) is the scope of a lifetime’s art.  The curator has given us not just the finished, famous paintings, but also small personal works, natural objects which inspired him.  And this is where it is especially valuable for inspiration to anyone creative.  Being able to see sketches, little booklets made for friends – it becomes art which seems doable yourself. If you see only the grand, finished canvases, they seem unapproachably magnificent.  But when you can see preparatory photographs, sketches, notes – you can see how a wide range of sketchy ideas becomes the finished, powerful piece, made up of the best bits of the preparation.



Paul Nash, sketching airplane wreckage, for his painting “Totes Meer (Dead Sea)”


Part of the exhibition was a projected extract from Jill Craigie’s film on war art “Out of the Chaos” – (still at right), the entire film is viewable, free, online, thanks to the British Film Institute.

(Paul Nash features from 7’06 minutes to 9’45 minutes)



Even more rewarding and personal is the four and a half minutes Tate Shots video by Simon Grant, about just one painting – Nash’s masterpiece, Totes Meer and why it is not only a piece of War Art, but tied up with Nash’s asthma (eventually fatal) and a failed love affair, making it  “one of Nash’s most personal paintings”.


World War 1 changed Paul Nash from a sympathetic painter of English nature landscapes into a powerful recorder of destroyed, warscarred land.  The exhibition has displayed an enlarged extract of a letter home, written November 1917,

It is unspeakable, godless, hopeless.  I am no longer an artist interested and curious.  I am a messenger who will bring back word from men fighting to those who want the war to last forever.  Feeble, inarticulate will be my message, but it will have a bitter truth and may it burn their lousy souls.

This is the other revelation from this exhibition – the powerful words and writings of Paul Nash.  Near the beginning of the exhibition is a small booklet he had printed of his own poems.  The title is something like “From me to you and from you to the bedpost”.  This is such a beautiful, personal gift – something doable for many of us.

The Tate exhibition takes us through the story of Nash’s life, in room sections titled Dreaming Trees, We are Making a New World, Place, Room and book (features still lifes), Unit One (the important international Surrealist group of which he was a part), The life of the Inanimate Object (includes inspiring stones, feathers as well as artworks by his lover Eileen Agar), Unseen Landscapes, Aerial Creatures and finally Equinox.

He was very much a painter of place.  And so to mind springs a song written a couple of decades after his death –