Lee Miller, from being seen to seeing

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: Lee Miller, war correspondent -WikiCommons

Miller was born in 1907, in Poughkeepsie, New York. Old fashion, old style! Most of us didn’t live during these times, when this woman was a fashion icon. Most of us didn’t hear the rattle of gun and didn’t feel the fear of war. But she did and she led a life that many times was out of the comfort zone of regular people. She knew how to wear elegant clothes and also muddy boots.  Her photography has informed the world about the horrors of WWII and has also inspired fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Gucci’s Frida Giannini and Ann Demeulemeester.

Why am I writing about her?

Because I was inspired by her metamorphosis, from a young girl that had a career in modeling, to an accomplished photographer and then to a war correspondent. Because I appreciate the bravery of a human, male or female, who is able to get out of his comfort zone to do things that would make a difference in our world.  Because I like photography and because maybe not many people know that she was a part of the Surrealist movement, just as much as Man Ray, who is considered the pioneer of it. 

Her father’s daughter, New York and Vogue

Her father was a bricklayer son. He was of German descent and his own passion was photography. He decided that his daughter was the perfect model and he photographed her since babyhood. He taught her about the technical aspects of photography. They had a close relationship and some say that this is perhaps why she didn’t hold long relationships with other men….

At 19, she became employed by Vogue. She was one of the most sought – after models and she was challenging the stereotypical images of women in the society of that time.

Her photo was used in an advertisement for Kotex menstrual pads and it was the first time that the image of a human being was employed for such a product. Needless to say that the ad ruffled a lot of feathers given the lack of permissiveness of the times. It is funny to look at the above photography now and think about the reactions that it caused back then. 

Paris and Surrealism

In 1929 she travelled to Paris to meet Man Ray, a surrealist artist and photographer. She turned up at his table at Le Bateau Ivre café and she became his apprentice and lover. Together they lifted photography to surrealist art. They discovered the technique called “polarization” which then became Man Ray’s trademark( this is the overexposure of the photographic film in the camera through which you give photos a ghostly, glowing look). If you want to know more about this technique here is a link : how to solarize photos.

They worked three years together and they took extraordinary photos of each other. She became Man’s obsession and even if he photographed countless celebrities (among which are Wallis Simpson, Virginia Woolf, Picasso, Chanel) she was the one that was his muse. In their pictures of each other, you can see their erotic connection.

Photo:Man Ray, WikiCommons

Between New York, Egypt and Paris

Jealousy broke Miller and Man apart.  She moved to New York during the Depression era and she started a business with her brother Erik. Here she fell in love with a rich Egyptian, Azis Eloui Bey. He came to NYC to buy equipment for the Egyptian national railway. They got married and together they moved to Cairo. 

Here she took some of her most striking black and white photography. This above photo is one of them.

But I guess her wanderer spirit could not be tamed. By the end of the decade she will separate from Aziz and move to London. Here she’ll meet the love of her life, Roland Penrose. 

London and WWII

I think what shines about her is her work and courage.  In London, while married to Penrose, Miller embarked on a new career in photojournalism as the official war photographer for Vogue.

Unafraid, she took pictures of many important events during the war. 

If you remember from one of my previous articles about St. Paul’s Cathedral, one of the worst things that happened to London and Britain during the war was the Blitz. This was a campaign of bombing (almost daily bombing!) of London and Britain by the Germans.

Miller was there, with her Surrealist eye. She brought the tragedy of destruction in front of people’s eyes. If you see her photos, you can feel her empathy for the ones suffering, you can feel her compassion for the destruction that was going around. Her pictures were featured in Vogue as a way to show the American public the terrible tragedy Britain was enduring and also in the hope to influence the United States to enter the war. 

I can’t bring myself to put many of her war photographies here, because they are sad. But, here is one of a bombed chapel.

Besides photography she also did combat journalism, sending cables from the most dangerous places. 

She reported from St. Malo, which was garrisoned by German troops. This was a vital point for Germany’s defense along the Atlantic coast. While it was heavily bombarded by the Allies she violated the terms of her accreditation as a woman journalist and of course, covered the combat. As a consequence, she was later put under house arrest by the US army, but she was again not deterred to go cover further battles.

She went to Buchenwald and Dachau, two German concentration camps. The thought of these places makes my body hair rise and makes my body feel cold.

She also reported from the 44thEvacuation Hopital, Normandy, after D-Day.

Miller was the first person to enter Hitler’s Munich apartment as American forces were liberating the city. Here is a photography of her in his bathtub. Notice her muddy boots soiling the Hitler’s pristine white bathmat.

Then she spend time documenting the aftermath of Nazi rule, singling out female victims and perpetrators.

After the War, Miller suffered from what now might be recognized as PTSD, drinking heavily and retreating into depression. She lived in the UK with her husband , Penrose, and son. She died from cancer in 1977.

Her story inspires. I am inspired by her courage to be there in a war zone. I am inspired by her strength in the face of adversity, by her quest for truth and justice. Having worked with Syrian refugees myself, as I have a book project on the back burner, I have a glimpse of how emotionally difficult it is to be there for people that have lost close to everything. I hope that day by day, we all become better and we do our bit to make a good change in this world.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Lou Andreas Salome and her “audacity to be free”

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: Lou Andreas-Salomé – Foto Atelier Elvira, WikiCommons

There are so many things we take for granted, such is freedom. Being free to speak our minds, to pursue our dreams, and to do the things we want to do. But what if you lived in a different place or in a different time, what if you had to fight to be you everyday? 

Lou Andreas Salome was an extremely bright woman, one that Nietzsche, Rene Maria Rilke (a famous German poet), Paul Ree (a German philosopher) fell in love with.  She was also a confidante of Sigmund Freud and a sort of a godmother to Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud. That’s an impressive list of fascinating people, isn’t it?  

She made herself free of the society rules and became immersed in her work. She ignored her family’s and the general social expectations, which held that the purpose of a woman was to get married, have children and be dependent on her man. Pressed by everyone around her to undertake a conventional life, she constantly refused to do so.

She lived in Germany, where under the influential Prussian civil code an unmarried woman remained under the ward of her father and a married woman under the ward of her husband…and the husband, until 1860 could take his wife to the police station to be beaten….Imagine that!

I think she was a larger-than-life figure. Besides these top thinkers that were entwined in her life, her accomplishments in the fields of philosophy, psychology, and her published writings as a poet, essayist, and novelist are extraordinary.  She was one of the first female psychoanalysts and one of the first women to write psychoanalytically on female sexuality.

How did she remain under the radar?!

She was born in Russia, Sankt Petersburg in 1861.  She was curious and wanted to learn, so she persuaded a Dutch priest to teach her theology, philosophy, world religions and German literature. The priest, who was married and 25 years older than her, fell in love with her and proposed. Of course, she wasn’t interested and the lessons stopped.  She was only 17 years old…

After her father’s death she moved to Zurich; then because she developed a lung disease they moved to Rome. She was 21. Here she met Paul Ree, a German philosopher than happened to be Nietzsche’s friend. Paul Ree is not that famous, but Nietzsche’s (1844–1900)philosophy has been and still is of influence in present time. Nietzsche’s way of thinking was fresh; he challenged the traditional values and I like that about him. With the risk of being deterred from the subject, I’m going to include here few of Nietzsche’s quotes:

“ There are no beautiful surfaces without a terrible depth”

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

“The higher we soar, the smaller we appear to those who cannot fly.”

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”

—Friedrich Nietzsche

Lou, Nietzsche and Ree spend time and were planning to all move together, in a kind of brotherhood-sisterhood living, where they would all concentrate on their work. 

This is a famous picture the three of them took in Luzerne, with Lou holding a whip and Nietzsche and Ree pulling the cart. It symbolizes the power she had over them…

Photo:Nietzsche paul-ree lou-von-salome, 1882,WikiCommons

Nietzsche and Ree were smitten with her and both proposed. She rejected their proposals. The relationship with Nietzsche ended up first, partly because of his possessive sister, Elizabeth Nietzsche, who in my opinion was a not very nice(I’ll just say this to keep the language of my writing clean). Some scholars say that Nietzsche wrote his famous book Thus Spoke Zarathustra as a response to his broken heart. Ree left her when she agreed to enter into a sham marriage (meaning no sex) with a linguistics scholar Friedrich Carl Andreas. They stayed married this way for 23 years, until his death in 1930.

Then she became deeply involved with Rene Maria Rilke, a German poet. I read his poetry and it’s beautiful. She persuaded him to change his name from Rene to Rainer. He was the first man that she got involved with  sexually, she was around 30.  She felt that she and Rilke were so well suited because he was in touch with the feminine side of himself. She often referenced herself as “androgynous” and she said that everyone should find the opposite sex within themselves. I find this a bit odd, a bit puzzling! If I am a woman, can I also find the man in me?! If you’re a man, can you also find the woman in you?! 

Last, in 1911, Salome went to Vienna, to undergo psychoanalysis with Freud.  Her ideas were inspirational to Freud, specifically on the topic of narcissism. They were actually linked by their common interest in narcissism. While Freud studied narcissism from outside, she studied narcissism from within. They had opposing views. For Freud, narcissism was a formation of one’s own self-image, for Salome narcissism broke out from the framework of the “I” and went beyond the boundaries of “love for oneself”. For Salome narcissism was a maniacal condition of love towards oneself and towards the surrounding world. Interesting, isn’t it!!! She became a psychoanalyst, and practiced until the Nazis came to power. She was five years younger than Freud and despite the rumors about their romantic involvement their relationship was mostly intellectual.

There is a good movie about her, in German: Lou Andreas Salome and the audacity to be free. This is where I got the inspiration for my title. The movie made me a bit sad, but we should always follow our dreams and always think about what do we want to be remembered for. 

Why do I find her inspiring ? I find her inspiring because she was a woman who managed to live a self-determined, independent life. She went against all odds and became who she wanted to be. 


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gertrude Bell, a sort of woman Indiana Jones

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo:British author and archeologist Gertrude Bell, in Babylon, Iraq, WikiCommons

Ignored or completely unknown, Gertrude Bell was another remarkable woman who left traces in our history. I have written about her before, but that is being published somewhere else and since I cannot share it on my website, I’m still going to tell you about her ….in a different way.

She was a misfit, one that naturally went against the stereotyped woman of the early twentieth century.  She was born in England, in 1868, into a wealthy family. Her mother died while giving birth to her brother Maurice and her father remarried Florence Bell soon after, while Gertrude was seven years old. Florence, now her stepmother, was also a woman with visions. She was a playwright and author of children’s stories and she instilled in Gertrude a sense of responsibility. 

Getting an education

She studied at Oxford. In a time when women were not allowed to study almost anything, history was one of the few subjects they could tackle.   Did you know that back then women at Oxford had to remain silent in lectures and could not interact freely with professors or male classmates? Ah, I wonder where did these women found grace to behave as they were asked. Anyway, it is said that Gertrude was the first woman to graduate in Modern History at Oxford.

The wow Gertrude

A lot of records list her as an archeologist or as a writer, but for me the accent should be put on her travels, on her quest to uncover unknown paths and on her cultural and political power in the Middle East. A rebel against gender convention, she became successful in the male-dominated fields of geography, archeology and statecraft.

Mountain climbing

Yes, she climbed mountains! She started in 1899 and she changed her skirt in for pants to make climbing more comfortable. We heard of Tom Ballard, the king of Alps, but back in the very beginning of 1900’s, Gertrude climbed several famous mountain peaks in the Swiss Alps. Today, there is a mountain, the Gertrudespitze, which is named in her honor.

Middle East travels

Photo:Sgt. Reeves. A.F.M. Miss Gertrude Bell, Iraq; Repository San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

Gertrude felt at home in the desert, here is where her heart was.

I’ve been in the desert myself. Despite what the word “desert” summons in our imagination and feelings, the desert is an astounding place. Its quietness goes down into your being and you feel more alive and more you than in any other place in the world. Here you’re undisturbed by the constant murmur of the world.

So Gertrude, I understand.

Her desert odyssey started in 1900 and she travelled across the Arabian desert many times. Many people thought of her as a specie of lunatic British explorer. I think the fact that they underestimated her was her lucky charm.

Her knowledge helped the European powers decide how to carve Arabia after the war. There is a movie made about her and her travels: “Queen of the desert”.

Under the cover of archaeological research, she traveled to Hail, to assess the Rashids, a historic Arabian House who were the most formidable enemies of the House of Saud. I don’t know what she saw or what she said but we all know that Ibn Saud was the one that became the founder of Saudi Arabia.

Many say that Gertrude was a spy. I don’t know how I feel about this, I guess if you’re not there, you don’t know the reasons, or if you didn’t read enough, you should not speak. So, I will not speak. I want to highlight her courage rather than the political games.

 She was also involved and played a big role in the creation of Iraq, she played the role of mediator between the Arab government and British officials and later on she played an important part in the administration of Iraq.

Love…love….but not so much love….

Gertrude never married, but she had several love affairs.

Her first love was an Englishman, Henry Cadogan. She was so in love and wanted to marry him, but her father did not approve. Henry died nine months later. 

This is a picture of Nicole Kidman who plays Gertrude and James Franco(Cadogan) in the Queen of the Desert movie

Later in her life, she had a passionate affair with Sir Frank Athelstane Swettenham, a colonial administrator. I don’t know much about him, if you’re interested you can find more at the link above. I think he was a man full of life, as he remarried at the age of 89…

There are so many other many aspects of Gertrude’s life that made her remarkable: she volunteered for the Red Cross in France during the World War I, she worked for the British Intelligence, she helped form The Baghdad Archaeological Museum, now called The Iraqi Museum, she worked with archaeologist Sir William Ramsay in Anatolia and together they wrote a book….and I’m sure there are many other things that I cannot remember and hence I didn’t mention.

Remarkable woman; an example of courage and of YES, YOU CAN!


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Martha Gellhorn

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo:Martha Gellhorn, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.WikiCommons

Do you know that song of Alicia Keys “ Girl on fire”?

“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire
Hotter than a fantasy, longer like a highway
She’s living in a world, and it’s on fire
Feeling the catastrophe, but she knows she can fly away
Oh, she got both feet on the ground
And she’s burning it down
Oh, she got her head in the clouds
And she’s not backing down”

That was Martha Gellhorn, a girl on fire! She was a girl that went to ground zero to cover the Spanish Civil War, one that hid in a ship’s bathroom to be able to go cover the Normandy landings, one that was among the first to report from Dachau concentration camp.

I think she is best remembered for her marriage with Hemingway, but she should be remembered for being one of the best war correspondents of her time and for being a fighter for justice and a fighter for the poor. 

Should I pose the question: what is inspiring about her? I guess her strength and courage is unquestionable and so is her passion to pursue her dreams. But let me elaborate on that…….

She was born in 1908, in St. Louis Missouri. Her mother went to Bryn Mawr—with Eleanor Roosevelt—and became a founder and vice-president of the National League of Women Voters. Martha went to Bryn Mawr herself(this is an all women college, in Pennsylvania, with many famous alumni) but she did not complete her education. Instead she left to Paris, armed with a typewriter and $75 and determined to become a journalist.

She did eventually become a journalist. She moved from Paris back to USA and she wrote a book “The Trouble I’ve Seen” that vividly describes the hardship and the collapse of the American way of life during the Great Depression.

And then what did Martha do?

She went to Spain and covered the Spanish Civil War, in 1937. She crossed over the border from France into Spain alone, with $50 rolled and tucked into her boot. She lived among crumbling buildings; she went to the front. What was unique about her is that instead of focusing on tactics, generals and weapons, Martha looked at the people. She wrote about the makeshift hospitals, lines for bread, the smell of explosive, the war and its horrors.

She wanted to give a real account of the war and she said that : “I was always afraid that I would forget the exact sound, smell, words, gestures which were special to this moment and this place.” ( this is an excerpt from her book,The Face Of War, by Martha Gellhorn).

This is the time when her affair with Hemingway started. 

Photo:Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking (Chongqing), China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Photo public domain

Martha and Hemingway were married in 1940.She managed to stay married to him for about 5 years(1940-1945). They lived in Cuba. 

She left to cover World War II, but back then the military would not accredit women to report from the front line. Still, she found a way, because where there is a will there is a way, isn’t it? She hid in the bathroom of on a hospital ship and this way she landed in Normandy. She went to the shore as a stretcher bearer….

She was there on the D Day and she was also one of the first journalists on hand when American soldiers liberated Dachau in May of 1945. 

After World War II she and Hemingway got divorced. I’m not one that is assuming the worst so I don’t know if he was jealous on her achievements (because that’s what most historical accounts say) or if  they just found out that they had different paths in life. There is a movie about their marriage,  Hemingway & Gellhorn(2012) that portrays a restless, critical and violent Hemingway.

Martha also reported on Vietnam war, where she went to visit hospitals and refugee camps. She wanted to show people’s pain.

I love her for her courage, for her free spirit and for being a fighter for justice.

And I am going to close with an inspiring quote, one that should remind us to fight for what we think it is right, one that should remind us that not everybody is lucky and if there is anything that we could do, we should do it :

 “I am certain that not one word ever did the slightest good. But I am a writer and know nothing else to do. It is tiring and unrewarding. On the other hand, complete silence is worse, so even if it’s only a mouse squeak it is better than nothing.” ( Martha Gellhorn)


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Beryl Markham

by Andrada Costoiu

Photo: cover of my book by Paula McLain, “Circling the Sun”

Sometimes life gets so busy that we forget about the people that were not a Napoleon, a Freud, a Plato. Figures that deeply marked with their knowledge or experiences life as we know it are always there, always referenced, always remembered.

But what about the other inspiring people? What about the ones that are not part of the main stream?

Today I thought about someone that I would have liked to know, someone that inspired me in my love of flying, someone that was a pioneer in many ways: Beryl Markham.

Why I like Beryl? Who was she? What did she do?

She was born in England in 1878 and when she was 4 years old, she left with her parents to Kenya, which back then was British East Africa.  While she was still small her mom returned back to England and eventually married another man. Beryl lived with her father, adapting to the new culture and eventually blending into the Kenyan way of life.

Her life was an adventure; a true adventure in which she had to work and fight for her dreams.

We all know how great Amelia Earhart was. But not so many of us know about Beryl. Just like Amelia, Beryl was the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic from east to west, from England to America.  Her experience is documented in a book I enjoyed reading: “West with the Night” (this is her memoir).

She flew in Kenya, on vast distances, delivering mail, medical supplies, carrying critically ill patients. The flying instruments back then were a far cry of what we have now! No radio, no GPS, no air speed indicator; she only had maps of navigations and a compass. 

So yes…..I admire Beryl!

She also trained horses, she was the first woman race-horse trainer in Kenya.

She meet Ernst Hemingway on a safari trip in Kenya. Years later, he praised her book and said in a letter to a friend that “As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”( Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters 1917-1961, Carlos Baker ed. ,Simon&Schuster, p.541)

She loved. She loved and she suffered, she went through the emotional roller coaster that we all do.  She was a nonconformist and in the eyes of many she had a “scandalous” life. She was married three times, but I think from her love life, two relationships were memorable to me: the one that involved Denys Finch Hatton and the one that involved Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, son of George V. I think the one with Prince Henry struck me because it was a scandalous affair and they were both married.

The other one with Denys Finch Hatton was a love triangle. Most of us have probably seen the movie “Out of Africa”, which is based on Karen Blixen‘s( also known as  Isak Dinesen)memoir. Karen was also a strong woman and was the lover of Finch Hatton; she loved him deeply but so did Beryl! It is unclear when Beryl-Finch love story started (different sources have that it started when he was still together with Karen and that Beryl stole him from her, others say that their relationship started after he and Karen were not together anymore). So, I don’t really know…..and I guess we won’t really know , but what is certain is that Denys inspired Beryl to learn flying.

There is so much more to say about this woman.  I have read a few books about her; my favorite two are “ Circling the Sun” by Paula McLain and “West with the Night” by Beryl Markham. Paula McLain ’s book is wonderfully written. You will feel as you are witnessing Beryl’s life, you’ll feel like you’re hunting in the Kenyan landscape with her and the other children, you’ll feel like you’re flying with her and you’ll also dream with her about Finch Hatton. “West with the Night” is a wonderful account of what Beryl felt and dreamed, in her own words.

So yes! Beryl Markham was a remarkable woman, one that should inspire and empower the woman of today.


© Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 . Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Andrada Costoiu and a-passion4life.com, 2019 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.