By Albert Smith
Originally published on Advocate.com March 06 2010 5:00 AM ET
Steven Miller has been working in some form of creative expression for almost 20 years. In the nineties he divided his time between playing bass for the theatrical music group ¡TchKung!, working as a graphic designer, and doing performance art with groups P.A.N. and Paratheatrical Research.
Since 2003 he has shown work in several solo and group exhibitions across the country. In 2009 he published his first monograph, Milky, through Decode Books. In 2007, David Kiehl, Print Curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art; and Rock Hushka, Curator of Contemporary and Northwest Art, selected nine pieces from the Milky series for the Northwest Biennial at the Tacoma Art Museum. His work was also included in the Frye Art Museum’s Swallow Harder exhibition in 2006.
His work is in the permanent collection of the Tacoma Art Museum, Northern Georgia College and State University, and 4 Culture’s Portable Works.
Why are you a photographer?
I’ve liked photography since I was a child and pursued it throughout high school. I wasn’t that great though—I took one really good photograph in high school and the rest were crap. My teacher encouraged me to look into a different career. I let photography go for a decade but then decided I had to follow what I loved, so I went to college for it at age 30. My first gallery show was travel work and it did all right but a curator told me that I wasn’t going to go far doing what had already been done before. So I realized that there was work that I wanted to make with some ideas behind it instead of just photographing the world around me—that was scarier because I could fall on my face, but it’s also been much more rewarding because my work is distinctly my own now.
What catches your eye?
It’s not so much what catches my eye as what I want to make happen in front of the camera. I think a lot about what it is I want to communicate with the world before I even pick up the camera. Once I start a body of work I am often inspired by seeing someone who has a particular energy and know they’d be great for the series. At that point I think about what I’d like them to do and then ask them if they’re willing to go that far with me. They usually say yes.
How do you choose your subjects?
Really it’s all about how we interact. Most of my subjects are friends, with the occasional total stranger who captured my attention while selling me food or at a bar. I get a little nervous when I ask a stranger but I usually do it because we’ve had a moment, not necessarily sexual, but one that lets me know we connect on some level. I like the guys who have some sense of style, or an atypical sense of beauty. Some friends have been in every series I’ve done. I think they like that we’re going to do something out of the ordinary, potentially illegal or at least not sanctioned by society and there’s a sense of liberation in doing so.
How do you describe your work?
When people ask me what I photograph I say I like to put people in unusual predicaments and photograph the outcome.
What makes a good photograph to you?
One where everybody in the photograph is resonating with one another and the camera. The subjects look good, the camera is in the right place, the lighting’s good and everything just feels right. I can usually tell as I’m taking it that I’ve got the perfect photo right there. It’s not always the prettiest one either – sometimes it’s the most uncomfortable.
Who are your favorite artists? And why?
Kiki Smith – she works in so many different mediums and excels at them all. I love how intimate her work is and what she shows you of her inner self, yet there’s a sense of expert craftsmanship to the work so the work is both personal yet glossy. As for photographers, right now I am totally in love with Jeff Bark’s work (jeffbark.com) – his photographs are beautifully lit and the subject matter is stunning, plus he reminded me how I could photograph women without falling into the usual trap of just displaying surface beauty. Gregory Crewdson and Anthony Goicolea were both influential in helping me build ideas around fictive narratives, and Sally Mann shows the world in a beautifully intense way, whether she’s photographing her children or decaying corpses.