My fixation with this photograph boils down to the line of Miller’s neck.
Weirdly, it reminds me of one of the weirdest notes I ever got from someone looking at a drawing I had made–way back when I was 17 and was determined to have drawing be my medium for becoming a famous artist: someone told me they thought my drafting skills were atrocious (true) and that I lacked even a rudimentary understanding of form (a bit overblown, as far as criticisms go) or the conceptual reflexivity between content, context and materials (also: true) but that they loved the truth of a particular line (which they indicated).
It always struck me as a way of making a scathing critique palatable but I realize now that it was actually a backhanded compliment. And it’s this photo that’s made me understand why that’s the case.
See it’s not just the line of Miller’s neck. It’s sensuous–the way the light chisels her body out from the shadows. The pose is meditative and intensely vulnerable but everything about it seems to radiate a warrior’s strength and self-possession.
Also–synchronously: my MFA cohort has begged me to organize an informal class where we screen underappreciated/forgotten miracles of the cinematic form. Last night we I presented Joachim Trier’s Thelma. (Trier is one of the most exciting young filmmakers in the world, having made three films that are all wildly different in style and tone but that all embody a startlingly refined sense of visual dynamism and psychological intensity.)
It’s the 2nd time I’ve seen Thelma (and it’s even better the second time around–I’m pretty sure it’s the first movie in a decade to crack my top 10 favorites of all time) and I was even more impressed with the attention to detail and depth. But also: it’s a bit unnerving to watch because I not only relate to the character but I also see the movie as a kind of mirror because the degree to which the character is aware of herself as both herself and a character in a dramatic scenario short-circuits a lot of my own parameter defenses and I have this weird experience of watching someone who not only looks like I see myself in my head but experiences the world in a way that goes far beyond superficial similarities. Watching it is almost like having someone take my notion of myself and putting her in a narrative that would be exactly the sort of narrative I’d put myself in given half a chance.
And that’s how I feel about this photograph of Lee Miller: that although it was made almost a full 50 years before I was born, it still shows me something unexpected about myself.