Sandro Miller: Crossing The Line With John Malkovich
“Let’s think about it, let’s consider what were doing here, let’s have an idea” suggests Chicago commercial photographer Sandro Miller, when asked his opinion on posting photographs for our Instagram society. Miller talked to the BBC’s Anna Bressanin about why the ability to post photos online threatens his artistic medium and about how he and Malkovich created the images that people couldn’t help but share.
Chicago based Sandro Miller is a highly admired and quite successful commercial photographer with several books and exhibitions to his credit. His success in the commercial world allows him to continue his personal projects, which has included working in Cuba, photographing American blues musicians, various dance troupes, and extended endeavors with John Malkovich, his long time friend and collaborator. Sandro first met Malkovich in the late 1990s, while working on a job for Steppenwolf Theater. More than 16 years later, Sandro and John are still collaborating, which can be seen in their latest project, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich.
Sandro is a consummate photographic artist, who hopes this project will begin a push back against what he sees as social media’s degradation of the art in photography, and photography as an art form in and of itself. It is Sandro’s belief, a belief that I share, that most of the millions of images posted every day to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, WordPress, LinkedIn and the millions of blogs worldwide, are for the most part unconsidered garbage fit for little more than the trashcan on their creators desktops – not the Publish Now button used in the heat of the moment. Indeed, every photo is not art. It takes little skill to push a button and then upload. Real skill is in seeing which direction and when, after considered planning and research. Even if that planning and research occur in only a brief moment of reflection.
These pitiful cravings for “Likes” are photographs with no reason to exist, no thought or planning behind them, no human connection, tell no story, convey little to no real information for a viewer. Creating art takes investment on the part of the artist, and without that work the photo has no value. In other words, Mr. Miller doesn’t think much of the quality of work on most people’s Facebook Walls. And with good reason, as we look at his fabulous edition.
I spend little time on Facebook. What bothers me most are the horrible photographs people use for their LinkedIn portraits. Or worse yet have no portrait at all, simply a uniform default grey sort of pseudo head with a familiar name. Social media today is my primary calling card, as it is yours as well I am sure if your reading these words. Photographs need to be crafted as carefully to present our physical picture as prose is composed for our resumes. The two need to work together if the goal is to present a clear picture to the socially networked world of who we are and what we stand for.
Online portraits are a big part of that. As a portrait photographer, I feel I have a responsibility to connect with my subject to whatever degree necessary to “grok” what their personality is, and connect those emotions if possible. I can guess in advance how to pose, or what lighting to use, and adapt as necessary on location. I can capture a thousand different possibilities or just a few, but in the end we are after one ultimate portrait. The one frame that best represents my client to the rest of the world. Most often, the possibly several hundred other frames are simply discarded.
We all have a responsibility not to litter. We need to each do our part to help keep our planet clean. That includes the virtual world just as much as the physical one. I’ve been guilty in past years of leaving more garbage lying about the virtual world than most. As a full time photographer, I generate a considerable number of photographs – it is my job to do that! But it is also my responsibility to take down anything that has no reason to exist, or who’s reason to exist no longer applies. I’ve got to do an even better job of house cleaning moving forward. The Miller/Malkovich work sets a high standard we all need to aspire to in our editing.
Photos copyright Sandro Miller, courtesy of the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago. Video courtesy of the BBC.
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