It’s been a merry week, with London celebrating the Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday, St George’s Day and the 400th anniversary the death of William Shakespeare. London was awash with Union Jack flags, the Dubonnet flowed in honour of Her Majesty, and The Bard’s works were brought to life all over the city.
I took a stroll down Southbank on Sunday where 37 films were screened along the 2.5 mile stretch between Westminster Bridge and Tower Bridge. Each ten minute film showcased one of Shakespeare’s plays, starring some of the world’s finest actors. These were filmed in dramatic locations such as Verona, Rome, the ruins of Troy in Turkey, Athens, and the Pyramids. It’s literary and cinematic magic.
Earlier in the week, Obama was hanging out at The Globe, treading the boards and watching a special production of Hamlet. I wonder what goes through his mind when he hears the famous soliloquy “To be or Not to Be…”
About Southbank and Bankside
This two mile pedestrianised stretch of theatres (Globe, National Theatre), concert halls (Royal Festival Hall), museums (Tate Modern), restaurants (Oxo Tower), and London attractions (London Eye and London Dungeons) provides the best vantage point for photographs of St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster. Playwrights have gathered in Bankside since Shakespeare’s day, and it’s also home to one of London’s most famous foodie meccas: Borough Market.
Lee Miller: The Supermodel in Hitler’s Tub
I was lucky enough to catch the Lee Miller exhibition at The Imperial War Museum. This remarkable American socialite was a Vogue model, then fashion photographer. During World War II, she became a war photojournalist and captured women both in and at war. Miller’s circle of friends included Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Condé Nast.
Miller had a difficult childhood: she was raped at the age of seven and contracted gonorrhoea. She was a great beauty and modelled for Vogue at the age of 20, gracing its cover on her first assignment. She moved to Paris in her early 20s, where she became Man Ray’s apprentice, muse and lover. Miller discovered the art of solorisation where the image on a negative is reversed, a technique later adopted by Man Ray.
The beautifully curated exhibition included some 150 images. There’s Miller as the supermodel and as the surrealist photographer and muse in Paris. We then transition to her harrowing, yet tender images of women during the war.
This powerful and defiant self-portrait shows Miller in Hitler’s bathtub, taken the day he allegedly died. Earlier that day, she had been photographing Dachau. For t his shot, she strategically used her muddy boots as a prop to soil Hitler’s bathmat.
The Surrealist Cook
Miller married Roland Penrose after the war, whom she had met in Paris in 1937. She suffered from alcoholism and post traumatic stress disorder in her later years, but managed to contribute to several biographies, including Picasso’s. Miller then turned her creative hand to cooking, went to the Cordon Bleu, and became a Surrealist gourmet cook. She died in 1977.
Miller shares the same birthday as Shakespeare, and it’s interesting that 400 years after his death, and nearly 40 after Miller’s, how the younger generations are still drawn to these masters of our cultural past. One immortalised his age with the pen, whilst the other captured beauty, pain and sadness with the human eye.