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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

Las Vegas, 2001. Photograph by Greg Miller

It’s almost summer!  Time to get outside and start talking to strangers and what better way than with a big camera.  There is still space left in my class, The Large Format Narrative Portrait at Maine Media Workshop.  It runs next month June 12 thru 18.  It is kind of a crash course in finding your photographic voice in large format. Whether you are looking to move up to large format or are a seasoned LF shooter and just want to conquer your fear of approaching and photographing strangers, this could be the class for you and hey, hopefully you will have time to grab a lobster roll in the process.  The class quickly gets you up to speed in large format (it’s not that hard and the school provides cameras) then moves into shooting as many pictures you can before the week is up.  Processing is provided by the school so you can focus on shooting, classes are small, intimate and you get tons of one on one attention.

Greg helped me find my voice by encouraging me to use a larger format, but more importantly through his profoundly sharp, insightful, and constructive critiques.  He helped me slow down and develop my emerging style, skills I keep building on four years after taking his class.

-Former Student

To register click here or for more information go here.

Hope to see you there!

A scene from Maine Media Workshops 2010...

...and another.

My intrepid 2011 Large Format Portraiture and Street Photography class at ICP.

My beloved large format ICP class ended last Friday with a bittersweet farewell party complete with a traditional home-cooked Yemen meal. I wish my students the best of luck and look forward to seeing their continued success in any format they choose.  This year was one of my most remarkable with students from Yemen, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Buenos Aires and, of course, the US. (You can see last year’s class portrait here.)

Next up, Large Format Narrative Portraiture, taught in a 5 day workshop at Maine Media Workshops slated for June 12-18.

Untitled, 2011 from Ash Wednseday. Photographs by Greg Miller.

Here are the results of my photographing this year’s Ash Wednesday. You can see an edit from previous years here.  I have been photographing this day in midtown Manhattan for 14 years now, but since it’s only one day a year it is a slow process. It’s like I have been shooting for only 14 days. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent in the Catholic calendar (Episcopals do it too), so it’s actually a somber day meant to remind the faithful of their mortality, the inevitability of sin and of the promise of forgiveness. It has always struck me that, when administering ashes, the priest says, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

In case you are wondering, I am not Catholic. I was raised Methodist.  My grandfather was a Methodist minister but died when I was one year old so I don’t remember him.  My grandmother, walking around her kitchen, talked a lot about him and shared their humanist beliefs with me. I believe that much of the way I see the world was shaped there in her kitchen.

The beauty of Ash Wednesday is that very ordinary people, heading to the train, to work or school, exercise the simple act of wearing their faith for this one day a year.  A very old ritual against the backdrop of modern society.

As a photographer it is something of a ritual for me as well.  When I began the project in 1997, I wasn’t planning on shooting Ash Wednesday but walking around on the street to photograph… anything.  One of those days happened to be Ash Wednesday.  Because of my relative unease with the camera back then, I used to center the subject and have them engage the camera. Now I do anything I can to avoid people posing or looking in the camera.  But for the sake of continuity I return to this way of photographing people, sort of a testimonial portrait, for one day a year.

I am editing the series for book publication in the near future.  I want to thank Amy Skinner from the Guggenheim Foundation for coming with me this year, documenting the day and for being a lovely presence.

Behind the scenes photographs by Amy Skinner

Modena, Italy. Photographs by Andrea Modica

Andrea Modica has produced a new series of portraits called Best Friends that was published recently in Zoom magazine that I am proud to be able to show you here.  In the accompanying interview, Andrea explains the genesis of the project:

This project was begun a year and a half ago, when I was invited to photograph in a high school in Connecticut. I initially attempted to make single portraits. However, the student’s best friend was often nearby. This resulted in a small collection of photographs of pairs of high school students. I continued this work in my city of Philadelphia. I also had the opportunity to photograph at a high school in Modena, Italy where I was on a six-month residency which was generously sponsored by an Anonymous Was A Woman Award.

The resulting prints are luscious platinum/palladium prints. She goes on to say that the slow methodical collaborative process of photographing people with the big camera still suits her interests.  I can see why. It is good to see beautiful new work from Andrea.  The pictures here are all from her trip to Modena.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

Modena, Italy.

I am pleased to announce that I have been added to the roster at Maine Media Workshops.  I will be teaching my intensive large format portraiture class that always ends up being about so much more…  The class will run the week of June 12-June 18, 2011.  The class is open to all levels.  Shooting large format portraiture out in the world (in the home, on the beach, grocery store parking lots, really anywhere) is a great equalizer.  It is wonderful to have beginners and seasoned shooters practicing side by side.

Here’s the description from the schools website:

Large format is often associated with controlled environments such as the studio or contemplative pictures of nature.  This intensive class is a crash course in exploring the world with a large camera while challenging photographers to push the limits of this format.

Photographers at any level, from students who have never touched large format cameras, to experienced large format shooters are encouraged to register. Shooting large format photography in the world challenges and inspires every level. This course discusses not only the basics of camera operation, camera movements and anything needed to get up and running, but also addresses challenges of photographing people in the world, such as approaching strangers, obtaining release forms, and addressing the fears and boundaries associated with this type of portraiture.

Photographers learn how to use the camera while standing on the street, at the beach, or wherever they find people. Whatever a photographer’s comfort level is with strangers, he or she is encouraged and challenged to take it to the next level. Patience with oneself as well as with your subject is as critical to this class as the technical understanding of the camera.

I am an frequent contributor to Popular Mechanics who I love shooting for.  Last Spring, for their September issue, I was asked to photograph the spokeless bike designed by a team of seniors at Yale for  a story on backyard geniuses.  The students were from Yale’s Mechanical Engineering 489 led by Vern Van Fleet, a Sikorsky test engineer.  Here are three of my favorites from the outtakes.

Untitled, from Asser Levy Pool. 2010.

Here is your opportunity to see, in person, the Asser Levy 20×24 Polaroids I have been telling you about.  They will be on view in the back room at +Kris Graves Projects, 111 Front St., Gallery 224, DUMBO, Brooklyn, starting Tomorrow, Sept 2 until Oct 30.  Also showing in the main room is the dark landscape work of Andreas Gehrke so you don’t want to miss this one.  I will be attending the opening tomorrow from 6-8:30.  If you are reading this, you are invited.  Seeing the 20×24 Polaroids in person is nothing like seeing them as jpgs, believe me.  I still can’t take my eyes off them.

Untitled #1, from Asser Levy Pool. 2010. 20x24 Polaroid.

Here are the results of my 20×24 Polaroid shoot last Friday.  I took the legendary camera to the Asser Levy Pool on 23rd St and the FDR Dr. in Manhattan where I had photographed 15 years earlier.  We were there for 6 hours.  I shot a total of 9 sheets of 20×24 Polaroid, 6 different situations and represented here are the 4 that I consider to be… well.. good.

Untitled #2, from Asser Levy Pool. 2010. 20x24 Polaroid.

Untitled #3, from Asser Levy Pool. 2010. 20x24 Polaroid.

Untitled #5, from Asser Levy Pool. 2010. 20x24 Polaroid.

In typical NY fashion, most people at the pool couldn’t have cared less that there was this ginormous camera pool side.

L to R: Yours truly, Jennifer Traub and Nicole Cooke, photographs by Amy Skinner.

L to R: Jennifer Trausch, Barbara and Beba.

A wonderful byproduct of shooting with the huge Polaroid was that the people I photographed could see their pictures right then and there.  And not a tiny LCD image on the back of a camera, the huge show-stopping 20×24 print!  It had the weight of a historic moment.  When we pulled the first one (the one of the pregnant woman) everyone stared at it for a few minutes silent before saying anything.  Just the sound of children in the pool behind us.  It was really incredible.


The next shot.

Nicole removing excess chemistry.

Ryan, Tyler, Nicole and the camera.

End of the day back at the 20x24 Studio.

When we arrived back at the studio and unloaded, we were exhausted in the best way I can possibly imagine.  The wheels are already turning to figure out a way to do this again.  It was quite an honor to shoot with the camera.  In the meantime, the original Polaroids will be exhibited at Kris Graves Projects in DUMBO Brooklyn in September.  Details to follow…

Clockwise from upper left: Jennifer Trausch, Me, Robert, Georgia Williams, Nicole Cooke, Zach Gross, Ryan John Lee and Tyler McGuckin.

I would like to thank everyone who came out to support the whole endeavor:  mainly Jennifer Trausch who was the inspiration for me to shoot with the camera, Zach Gross, Nicole Cook, Tyler McGuckin, Elliot Goldstein, Amy Skinner, Georgia Williams, Ryan John Lee, Mae Ryan and last but not least, Robert Pattison (our intrepid truck driver that saved the day).  Also a special shout out to Andrew Hetherington, who put my blog on the map by giving us a plug and came all the way over to check it out.

All content and photos unless otherwise noted © Greg Miller.

Chris Wilson, charter boat captain, Venice, La. Photograph by David Zimmerman

I just saw this on NPR’s Picture Show.  I love the makeshift studio aspect of this project, and how it aligns with Zimmerman’s personal  passion for the earth.  I mean, we all hate the spill but this guy was already on a mission before the spill.  From his website:

David’s studio in Taos, New Mexico was built to LEED certified standards for sustainability. His studio is entirely solar powered, uses catchment water and is passive solar heated.

And of course I am happy to see that it is shot 8×10.  If you believe in something that much, why would you point a small camera at it?