Now that we have definitively entered into a troubled 21st century, I am developing a weird kind of nostalgia for the equally troubled previous one. This book, a marvellous memento of the period between 1930 and 1960, does everything to fuel this ambiguous attraction.
With portraits of Chaplin, many of the leading Surrealists, Picasso, Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Henry Moore and many others, Miller's twin eye Rolleiflex produces a very intimate view of the artistic scene in the middle of the 20th century. Some of the pictures were taken in the artist's studio, some in Miller's own studio, but most show the sitters informally and relaxed in mundane surroundings, weaving the mystery of artistic inspiration into the fabric of daily life. Whatever the context, Miller's portraits show the mark of a great artist, with composition, lighting and atmosphere invariably matched to the personality of the sitter. A great deal of her pictures are quite classical in conception, but many are spiced up with an occasional Surrealist wink.
The war pictures are a different matter. When Miller registers the ravages of this savage conflict, irony makes way for tragic grandeur. For example, the portrait of a Nazi suicide, daughther of the Leipzig Mayor, reconnects with the dramatic clair obscur of Carravaggio. Many of the images of wrens and ordinary service men reveal the quiet determination of people amidst a whirlwind of extreme violence. One of the most impressive pictures of this period, and in a sense an untypical one, depicts a murdered German prison guard floating in a canal bounding the Dachau camp, producing a mixture of the bucolic and the tragic which is very moving.
This book is beautifully produced and is a delight to hold in your hands. The captions that go with the pictures are well written and very informative. I would have wished for a more extensive lead essay by Richard Calvocoressi, but maybe we can find more information elsewhere. Pity also that the UK version of this book sports the Hein Heckroth portrait on its cover, which I do not find one of the most attractive pictures in this collection. But these minor quibbles do not detract for this valuable addition to my library.