Monday, October 5, 2009

Interview with Anne Miller, Photographer

"I try to subtract everything that doesn't contribute to the essence of the image."

"Glass #8"

DN: Is there something extremely formal in your work?

"Rust #110"

AM: Yes. But it comes from an intuitive and instinctual place rather than from my process. It is evident to me when I look at my images. I am aware of the interplay of formal elements both when I take a picture and when I am working in the darkroom, but I don't do much formal analysis while I am creating my images. I do my best work when I am free from judgment or constraints… just playing. Then I look at the images with my "formal" eye and may refine my work.

"I was initially attracted to the warm rust tones in a bolt in a piece of wood. When I looked at it more closely I liked the pattern of wood grain vertical lines that get wavy, and the contrast of the geometric shapes and the wood grain texture. I like making the bolt really important. It becomes something else, a shape, warmth and emergence from cool textured lines."

DN: How do you select your subject matter? Or is there a process by which it selects you?
AM: I try to pay attention to what is around me. Beauty attracts me, but my sense of beauty is personal. I am drawn to intense color and subtle color, the quality of light on a surface, patterns, disruption of patterns, translucency, and texture. Small objects that are a universe when viewed up close call to me. They remind me that everything has a specialness to it. I seek to explore the details and discover the beauty of some object that is small or seemingly mundane.
I am also interested in Really Big things. Their enormity reminds me that the universe is so much bigger than I am. They remind me that I am small and God is big. Like a hummingbird, I am irresistibly drawn to the nectar of the divine all around me, whether I am conscious of it at the time or not.

DN: Do you take many pictures of the same object until you find the right one? If so, by what means do you determine when a shot "works?"

AM: Sometimes I take several shots in the attempt to capture what attracts me to my subject in an image. I think when I am reviewing several pictures of the same thing, I use my formal art training to judge which shot is most successful. I like to see the set of photos very tiny on my computer screen to look for the ones with the best graphic impact. I rarely proceed with an image that doesn't catch my attention as a small thumbnail. Then I look at them greatly enlarged to see which picture has the most detail that I care about, or which of them best captures the original idea or feeling that inspired me.

I also like printing an image and putting it up on the wall for awhile to see if I get tired of it. Some photographs grab my attention at first and then I tire of them, others really surprise me with the lasting way that they hold my attention. Those are the ones that I consider keepers.

DN: Many of your photographs look painterly to me. Is your photography influenced by other art forms? If so, how?

AM: Yes, I am influenced by other art forms and artists. I like going to art galleries. I love seeing how people imagine and create in any medium. I am also a musician. Like visual artists, musicians think holistically, identify patterns, structures and tonal qualities and evoke an emotional response with their compositions, arrangements and performances. I am not sure about specific influences of music on my images, but there are so many similarities in the processes of making music to those used in making art.

A photograph represents only a small slice of the information that was available at the moment of capture. It is not reality. Just like a painter or printmaker, I decide what information to put into the picture. I make a series of creative decisions in the darkroom and in printing. In a sense, it is like I am using a camera to paint with light. Or maybe it is more like two dimensional sculpting with light because I am removing distracting elements from the subject at the time of capture, and trying to hone the final print down to the essence of what I see.

DN: What draws you to photography in general?

AM: I don't know... I guess I like the magic of it. When I was really young, I got a Polaroid "swinger" camera, and I loved waiting for the picture to appear on the print ejected from the camera.

Then when I was first married, my husband bought me a nice camera and we turned our only bathroom into a darkroom and I was introduced to more magic. Again, it was watching the print appear on previously blank paper.

I was always fascinated with seeing the world through different eyes. I think I'm sort of a kid. I just love pretending, and back then I used to wonder what the world looked like to an insect, or to a dog. Or a few years later, to my children.

When I was in college I studied art and music, and it was always really interesting to me how artists influenced musicians, and musicians influenced artists. I was fascinated with the effect of the Paris Exposition of 1889 on Debussy, Ravel, and the impressionist painters of the day. What we do in the world affects so much beyond us. I loved studying how African art is an extension of the daily life of Africans. It is practical, beautiful and soulful all at the same time. I think there is some of that in my images.

As time went by, I was forced to deal with the business of life and not spend much time on my photography. I had changed careers by then and was earning my living through my computer science skills. I watched as the digital age of photography approached. When I felt the quality of digital images was high enough, I leapt back into photography.

I am filled with wonder at how deeply interconnected things in nature are. I am still the little kid when I see some of the amazing works of man, and observe how man-made things interact with nature. How can we ever feel apart from each other, the things we make and the natural world? It is part of us. I feel that connection when I look at things up close. I am trying to "know" the object of my photograph.

I am so into color, glorious color. Color that draws me in and makes me lose my sense of time and place. I love mystery. I am a huge fan of Mark Rothko and Wassily Kandinsky. I see patterns everywhere, some obvious and some very subtle. Patterns and the color and texture of the objects that form the patterns are of central interest to me.

So why photography? I think of my camera as secondary to what I am trying to express. The camera is the tool. But I like the limits it puts on me. When I was a kid I used to sculpt things. And I really liked subtracting the medium and liberating my subject from the block of plaster (or bar of soap!). Photography works like that… you take a picture that captures the light on your subject. Then you reduce it to the most relevant depiction of your vision. It is never reality, but it hopefully represents real experiences, feelings, and relationships.

And I like being outside and mobile, too. I am part of the world and I want to see it. I want to really stop to see and experience it.

But the fun doesn't stop there. I can't wait to get to my computer and upload my pictures. I really like the digital darkroom. I use software that allows me to make many more creative decisions in transforming a digital negative into a print. I love that freedom. Sometimes those decisions are obvious and routine. Crop this, sharpen that. But other times an image just grabs me and I know that I can play with it and create perhaps several final prints, each unique in its own way. It is such a powerful urge. Working on an image on the computer is at least half of my process. When I play in the digital darkroom, I lose track of everything else sometimes for hours. I try to subtract everything that doesn't contribute to the essence of the image. And sometimes the creative process itself generates a new vision that leads to unexpected places. An Adventure! I'm smiling inside at the memory. And when I finally push away from my computer, I feel like I did when I was a kid and came into the house after an afternoon of hard play. . . exhausted, and exuberant.

DN: Where can people see your work now?

AM: They can see an online selection of my images on my website at, or they can see them in person at the Viewpoint Photographic Art Center where I have a portfolio available for viewing.

Viewpoint Photographic Art Center
2015 J. Street, Suite 101
Sacramento, CA 95811-3124
(916) 441-2341