Fire Masks

Image Details

Title Fire Masks
Artist Lee Miller
Year 1941
Location 21 Downshire Hill
Town/City London
Country England
Format Modern
Description The German bombing frequently cut off the electricity to the Vogue studio, so Lee Miller often used exterior locations for her fashion shots. This location is the entrance to the air raid shelter in the garden of Roland Penrose’s house in Hampstead. The masks were issued by Air Raid Protection wardens (Penrose was one) to protect them from incendiary bombs. Lee Miller often returned to her surrealist past with her work for Vogue, lending her fashion spreads an at times pervasive artistry. Sometimes, though, she went a little bit too far for the commercial fashion world… Fire Masks is one of Lee’s first war photographs, and was considered perhaps too macabre for publication. The models, demonstrating masks worn to protect against incendiary bombs, pose by the air-raid shelter at 21 Downshire Hill. One model rather casually clutches an air-raid warden’s whistle in her hand. A shelter, a mask, and a whistle – the sum total of civilian defence during the Blitz. The Photography historian Mark Haworth-Booth says of this image: ‘No other photographer of the Phoney War and the Blitz seems to have produced an image quite like this portrait of the double deformity of war.’ Published in US Vogue, 15 July 1941, page 60. Captioned as: Mask and eye-shield worn by British women as protection from incendiary bombs. One holds an air-raid warden's whistle.

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