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Interview with Tony Penrose on Weekend Edition Saturday

19 August, 2011

This last Wednesday I went to Boston’s NPR affiliate WBUR radio to tape an interview with Tony Penrose, director of the Lee Miller Archive and Roland Penrose Collection housed at Farley Farmhouse in Chiddingly, Sussex. The taping was for NPR’s popular show, Weekend Edition Saturday, which this week is being hosted by Jacki Lyden. I didn’t find out until after we finished that the usual listening audience is around 4 million.

To record the show we linked up studios in Washington DC, New York, Boston, and Brighton (UK, where Tony was), which was a completely new experience for me. Even in our technologically advanced times it’s pretty surreal to sit alone in a dark recording booth with headsets on, having a virtual conversation with interviewers hundreds of miles away. Originally, the interview was supposed to include the lovely Stephanie Browner, Administrator of the Man Ray Trust, but the logistics did not work out. I find it pretty interesting that the female artist in the Man Ray, Lee Miller relationship is today represented by a man (Tony is Lee’s son), while the man is represented by a woman (Stephanie is Man Ray’s niece).

We taped for about 50 minutes, which will be edited down to a short piece for Saturday’s show. I’m grateful for the opportunity but I can’t help but think there is so much we didn’t say; I just hope people who are interested will check out the book and the exhibition. We could have talked more about their creative partnership, and Man Ray’s attitude toward women, and there was much more to discuss about Lee’s powerful brand of feminism, her life in the fashion industry, and her refusal to be controlled by any man. There was also more we could have said too about the anguish Man Ray suffered when Lee left him, and the torment she experienced (on a completely different scale of course) as a war correspondent. Jacki asked a great question that I fumbled a little bit, about the amazing photograph of Man Ray and Lee Miller together at an opening at the Institute for Contemporary Art in London in 1975, the year before Man Ray died, shown above. (Lee died the year after that.) What I should have said, if I’d been quick on my feet, was that this picture is one of those incredible things that’s hard to explain in words – somehow, magically, I swear you can see the spark between them, still visible more than 40 years after they ended their romance.

The truth is, if you’d given us a two-hour program we still wouldn’t have covered all the bases. Between them Ray and Miller created so much great art, and lived such incredible lives. As Jacki said, it has all the makings of a great Hollywood screenplay!

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