Caitlyn Carr, a second year Master’s student in Art History, traveled to London, England over the summer of 2019 to continue research for her thesis project on twentieth century documentary photography. Caitlyn received the Carol Bird Ravenal Art Award Fund and a CAS Graduate Student Research Award to support her trip. Carr spoke to the importance of university-level and departmental funding for emerging art historians: “I am mainly using primary sources in my thesis, and I would not have been able to see them without traveling to London, so I am very thankful!”
Carr’s research explores themes of authority and consumerism in Lee Miller’s “Hitleriana,” a photo-essay published in the July 1945 edition of British Vogue. Lee Miller, an American photographer and photojournalist, traveled Europe and documented the end of World War II including traveling with photographer David E. Schermanto gain access to Hitler’s abandoned Munich home. The photographs taken in Hitler’s apartment form the photo-essay.
Carr focuses on the photograph titled Lee Miller in Hitler’s Bath (1945) and “the ways in which it undermines Hitler’s authority.” The photo depicts Miller sitting nude in the bathtub of the abandoned apartment. Her dirty boots sit on the floor in front of her, a reminder of her witness to the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau just days before. Using these photographs, Carr’s project grapples with how society represents and perceives evil through Hannah Arednt’s political concept of the “banality of evil.”
Carr’s research in the National Art Library archives at the Victoria & Albert Museum allowed Carr to see original copies of the Vogue magazine up close and in person. The opportunity to see the photo-essay as it was printed, surrounded by advertisements, broadened Carr’s approach to her research to include how viewers interpret the photographs in the context of the magazine. Carr also explores the themes of authorship and collaboration since Miller did not physically take the photo herself.
Carr visited the British Library and the Imperial War Library at the Imperial War Museum as well in order to obtain more primary source materials on Lee Miller, World War II, and British Vogue’s coverage of the conflict. While Carr hoped to visit Lee Miller’s archives in Essex, England, her tight travel schedule prevented her from doing so. She advises those considering applying for travel grants in the future to allow for plenty of time to research, travel, and exploration.
During her stay in London, Carr met an old friend, Tori Gingrich (MA’19). “Tori was visiting London at the same time. It can be lonely being in a foreign country by yourself, so I was very happy I had a familiar face to chat with. We had plans to watch the Champions League Final, but somehow ended up at the only pub in London that didn’t have the game on. Typical.”
Congratulations Caitlyn on an exciting and productive research trip, and many thanks to AU’s College of Arts and Sciences and the many individual donors and patrons of the program for supporting student research!
Carol Bird Ravenal, Professor Emerita and founding member of the AU Arts Council, funds the Carol Bird Ravenal Travel Award to give “AU students the same chance to learn about art firsthand… in the hope that exploring great works may inspire their own artistic sensibilities.” Travel is paramount for Professor Ravenal. “If you are creating art, or studying the many facets of art history, you need to explore, savor, and digest the wider world. A student’s world can expand exponentially with the first views of a strange and unknown place, whether it’s Paris, Berlin, New York, or California. Perhaps this experience will change lives. It surely has enriched and changed mine.” The awards are distributed yearly to studio art and art history students, both graduate and undergraduate, who display talent and academic excellence.
CAS offers travel and research grants to graduate and undergraduate students in the fall and spring semesters. For more information, please visit: https://www.american.edu/cas/research/student/