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Her parents were Theodore and Florence Miller (née Mac Donald).Her father was of German descent, and her mother of Scottish and Irish descent.She traveled to Europe in 1925, staying in Paris to study art.Miller's time in Europe was brief, being called back to New York by her father.During this time, Miller photographed dying children in a Vienna hospital, peasant life in post-war Hungary, corpses of Nazi officers and their families, and finally, the execution of Prime Minister László Bárdossy.After the war, she continued to work for Vogue for a further two years, covering fashion and celebrities.In 1929, Miller traveled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray.Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his model and collaborator (announcing to him, "I'm your new student"), as well as his lover and muse.

Also in 1934, Miller contributed an object to the Surrealist Objects and Poems exhibition at the London Gallery.One of the apartments became her home while the other became the Lee Miller Studio.During 1932 Miller was included in the Modern European Photography exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and in the Brooklyn Museum's exhibition International Photographers with László Moholy-Nagy, Cecil Beaton, Margaret Bourke-White, Tina Modotti, Charles Sheeler, Ray, and Edward Weston.Her photographs were not included in another exhibition until 1955, when her work was displayed in the renowned The Family of Man exhibition curated by Edward Steichen, the director of the Mo MA Department of Photography.At the outbreak of World War II, Miller was living in Hampstead in London with Penrose when the bombing of the city began. Army as a war correspondent for Condé Nast Publications from December 1942.

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