Through the Amy Stein | Photography | Blog I came across the Australian photographer Graham Miller, which is not surprising given that both artists seem to share a fascination for suburbia, its people and cultural accessories as well as the sense of “isolation from community, culture and the environment” (Stein) that seems to pervade much of the suburban emotional landscape here and probably in the US.
Miller’s says in an interview with Stein that his work is strongly influenced by short story writer and poet Raymond Carver. Carver’s work reflects the life of the working class, whose characters often experience isolation, marginalisation, sadness and loss as part of everyday existence. The lives of these ordinary people could be aptly described with Henry David Thoreau‘s idea of living lives of “quiet desperation.”
This is exactly what Miller’s photos capture and express. And like Carver he does it in a way that the former once described as being “inclined toward brevity and intensity”; Stein calls it befittingly “laconic intensity”. When reflecting on Carver’s work and ultimately on his own Miller talks about “… sketching out the bare outlines of a story with telling details and simple dialogue. He lets the reader’s imagination embellish the rest. His stories are lean but powerful, taking fragments from the lives of regular people and putting a magnifying glass on them for a brief period of time. They are stories of loss, broken relationships and struggle, told in a way that pulls at your gut.” And he mentions that Carver’s stories “are often unresolved, leaving you hanging to try and make sense of what has just taken place or what was about to happen”.
Miller quotes Carver who in turn quotes V.S. Pritchett’s description of the short story as “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing. First the glimpse, the glimpse given life, turned into something that will illuminate the moment and just maybe lock it indelibly into the reader’s consciousness.” Carver goes on saying that he very often just catches a brief glimpse of something and a while later then begins to see this hurried image settling into a scene, a stage that he then populates with characters.
That brings me to a critique apparently levelled at both Miller and Stein: that their images are being staged. What’s wrong with that? We go to see plays or movies; in fact, documentaries are right at the almost imperceptible bottom of public taste. We also read fiction as well as non-fiction, without ever complaining about the former being less valuable than the latter because it’s fantasy. But when it comes to taking photos, we somehow have this illusion of ‘truth’ attached to the actual image. The fact is, there’s never been a single photo in the whole history of photography that stood for truth – and that includes every snap we take and every ‘documentary’ image ever shot. Apart from the artificiality of the discriminatory distinction between photographs and the rest of the world of art objects, the differentiation between photos depicting ‘reality’ and those being staged is complete nonsense – they all are a window into the unique world of the photographer, not into whatever reality might exist out there.
Back to Miller’s actual work: Amy Stein’s interview with him, by which my own thoughts about Miller’s work have been inspired, has a lot more to say about the artist. In it Miller talks his appreciation of the “theatricality and artifice” in Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s work, makes reference to other photographic artists and filmmakers and about why he agrees with Stein that there is some ‘American’ about his own photos. The interview is well worth reading.
I f0und this Carver poem on Miller’s website, which wonderfully describes the subtleties that we can imagine underlieing Miller’s imagery, the dreams and hope in that quiet despair of life …
All these images were taken from Graham Miller’s Suburban Splendour series, and it’s more than worth it having a look at the rest of the series; after all, this is MY subjective selection out of 30 photos. He’s also got two other portfolios: The Performance of Everyday Life and Erick’s Cafe and other stories that are sometimes hilarious but always deeply reflective, meaningful depictions of his take on reality.