From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

How time flies.  Feels like yesterday I was heading out to photograph on Ash Wednesday and now this weekend will be Easter and the beginning of Passover.

This year’s Ash Wednesday was maybe my best ever. For those of you visiting this blog for the first time, this year is my 15th year photographing towards my series Unto Dust, portraits of people that have received ashes on Ash Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. You can catch up on the back story from last year’s post here and more from previous year’s images on my website here.

I am often overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers when I am shooting on the street. That New Yorkers (and some out -of-towners) will stop and allow me the 5-10 minutes it takes to make a picture always astounds me. I was recently moved by Thomas Merton’s “Louisville epiphany” in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: Merton was a practising Trappist monk who one day realized that there is no separate special world of the holy:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers[…]Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts[…]the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed[…]I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

When I read this I was taken aback by how closely his connection to “total strangers” aligns with how I feel towards the people I meet on the street when I am photographing. I think Thomas Merton could have been a street photographer! My hope on this 15th anniversary of my project is that people can look at this work and, regardless of religion, see themselves and their neighbors with more compassion.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

I was accompanied again this year by my friend and photographer Amy Skinner who documented the day. Many thanks to Amy, NPR Picture Show blog and the TIME tumblr blog both for featuring the project last month. And as always I am grateful to the two dozen or so people who were willing subjects this year.

photograph by Amy Skinner

Photograph by Amy Skinner

All images unless otherwise noted © Greg Miller

From the series, Unto Dust. 2011.

I am heading out to shoot.  I leave you with this.


by TS Eliot

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying
Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.
At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.
At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.
At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.
Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy
but speak the word only.
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs
Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos
Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing
White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.
The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word
But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken
Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew
And after this our exile
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.
O my people.
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn
Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings
And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth This is the time of tension between dying and birth The place of solitude where three dreams cross Between blue rocks But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away Let the other yew be shaken and reply.
Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated
And let my cry come unto Thee.

From the series, Unto Dust. 2010.

Today in regions all over the world, New Orleans, Brazil, Italy and elsewhere the celebratory season of Carnival builds to a frenzy with Mardi Gras then comes to a eerily quiet close on Wednesday. It is interesting to me that in New York, where I have photographed on Ash Wednesday all these years, with the exception of a few bars, there is little to no celebration. We have no parade here. It would appear that New Yorkers skip right to the penance. Since my pictures are of people in midtown Manhattan—people going to and coming from work (because of course it is always Wednesday, the exact middle of the work week)—the pictures have also become a collective portrait of our work ethic.

From the series Unto Dust, 2003.

Only two more shopping days until Ash Wednesday.


From the series, Unto Dust, 1999.

I am counting down to Ash Wednesday, the day I revisit my annual project, Unto Dust, photographing Catholic New Yorkers who have received ashes on the first day of Lent.  I began the project 15 years ago in 1997 and have shot every year since then except 1998 (the year I decided I should make it a project).

Newt and Boy, 2001.

I am very excited to be participating in Project Basho’s inaugural photography conference, ONWARD Summit on Saturday, February 11 in Philadelphia.  This years keynote speakers, Todd Hido and Hiroh Kikai.

Coinciding with the opening reception of the ONWARD Compé exhibition, this one-night event will bring engaging presentations by established and emerging artists and an intimate party to share current projects and portfolios with the fellow members of the photography community.

From Houses at Night. Photograph by Todd Hido.

Photograph by Hiroh Kikai.

I will be attending all of the festivities as well as one of the reviewers on Saturday’s portfolio reviews.

Here is a complete list of reviewers (in alphabetical order):

– John Caperton – Curator at The Print Center
– Bill Cramer – Photographer & CEO of Wonderful Machine
– David Graham – Photographer & Educator
– Todd Hido – Photographer, ONWARD Compé ’12 Juror, & Summit Keynote Speaker
– Robert Lyons – Head of Hartford Art School MFA Program & Photographer
– Martha Madigan – Photographic Artist & Educator
– Martin McNamara – Principal at Gallery 339, Philadelphia
– Greg Miller – Photographer & Educator
– Andrea Modica – Photographer & Educator
– Corinne Tapia – Gallery Manager at Sous Les Etoiles, New York

It’s not too late to register here. I look forward to seeing you there!

Crane Old School, the White Space
1417 N. Second Street [between Jefferson & Master St.]
Philadelphia, PA 19122

Gioia Reading, 2011.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
— Nelson Mandela

After spending the better part of December on the road, I have been feverishly working these last couple of days to get my annual holiday prints out the door.

This year’s photograph I took last Spring of my 5 year old daughter, Gioia, reading in our garage in Connecticut. I saw that she had plopped herself down to read a book in the warmth of the sun with her water bottle next to her. Remnants of her babyhood—her former crib and baby car seat—lie around in the background. Gioia has learned to read before our eyes, and to begin to devour the world through all things legible: books, signs, recipes, cereal boxes, advertisements and poems.

At about the same time that I took the photograph of Gioia, I was finishing teaching my class at the International Center of Photography. One of my students, Amira Al-Sharif, a photojournalist from Yemen, inspired me with her story of coming to the US to study photography on a Kickstarter grant and her continued success, which is evident in an interview with her on NPR. Amira told me of the struggles that she and other women faced growing up and living in Yemen, especially in rural areas. However, in spite of her hardships, Amira adamantly embraced tradition and spoke lovingly of her family and her country.  Amira grew up in Sana’a, the capital, and with the support of her father she had access to an education that many women throughout Yemen do not have. Given this opportunity, she has dedicated her photography “to work for a better life for the girls of Yemen.”

Najat Reading, 2009. Photograph by Amira Al-Sharif.

This photograph by Amira shows 18-year-old Najat Al-Suraihi learning to read in her father’s kitchen. She married when she was 12 and was subsequently beaten and abused by her husband who left her and took their only child, a 2 year old girl, with him. She now lives with her father and, as Amira puts it, “has two dreams: to be divorced and to be a nurse.”

As Gioia sat reading in the garage that day, in lands far away from rural Connecticut waves of protests were changing the Arab world dramatically and, closer to home, we have seen Occupy protests continue into the winter. It is increasingly clear in the news that knowledge is power and transparency is the expectation of the people.  I am inspired and hopeful that true change in the world can happen without the need of a massive war machine.  This holiday season my wish is that the simplest of activities—a girl reading a book—can bring us closer to realizing world peace.

Finally, I am asking that you consider making a donation this year, as I have, to one of the organizations below that empowers women and girls around the world through literacy and education.

Global Fund for Women

World Education


Las Vegas, NV, 2001

There are still spots left in my Portraiture Workshop at Project Basho in Philly next week. This is an opportunity to spend some quality time with me, be inspired, hone or discover your own unique style of portraiture, approaching and directing your subject and much much more!

Workshop Fee: $475
Lunch is included.
For more information click here and to register click here.

In July, Fortune Magazine hired me to photograph a security checkpoint at the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. This was to be published in their 9/11 issue last week but since the economy took a turn for the worse these pictures got bumped and sadly only one image ran on the Ipad app.

Photographing the TSA was an enlightening experience knowing the traveler’s side as well as I do.  With only a few exceptions, I have thought they are generally professional in light of the sheer number of people they have to deal with all day. But I am more in awe of the everyday folks that I see going through security. Business people, elderly, mothers or fathers traveling alone with their children as well as big families are more than accommodating, dutifully taking off their shoes, getting the pat down and/or being screened by a machine that is, let’s face it, pretty scary. Even with strobes set up all over the checkpoint and my trusty 8×10 camera, the line never slowed down, which was my worst fear. I had one assistant positioned on the pre-screened side asking, “Do you want to be photographed, yes or no?” and another on the other side obtaining release forms. Did many people say no? I would say about 80% said yes…  That’s fewer yeses than I normally get when I am just out shooting especially for a magazine, but not bad for people in a hurry.