New York City’s sweeping thoroughfares and claustrophobic side streets are, for him, the perfect studio. An opportunity to capture images of his fellow Gothamites, using his own unique angle on the thrilling art of street photography : up close and personal. What Adam Miller delivers, without doubt, are framed, intimate representations of the human condition using the backdrop of his own ‘private’, and, often, unforgiving, studio-cum-urban theatre.
Copyright ⓒ Adam Miller
A man, his head shrouded in his own breath in the freezing air of winter, looks down the lens, while over his shoulder a sinister looking character in a red ski mask furtively glances sideways.
Copyright ⓒ Adam Miller
A girl wearing a red puffer jacket stares at the photographer while she speaks on her phone.
‘There’s a guy with a camera… How should I know what kind it is… what?…Leica I think…uh huh.’
“I think my initial connection with street photography,” Adam Miller starts up, “Had a lot to do with the fact that I live in, perhaps, the perfect location for it. It was a way for me to learn how to take photographs in my own way and at my own pace. I am very proud to be a New Yorker and love the diversity of people here. I feel very comfortable around people and shooting them in an up close and personal way. I have a strong appreciation for where New York City has been in its cultural evolution, and I am able to connect the dots to where it is today. This fascinates me very much. I love being a part of the present New York City culture. And, I find it to be an endless source of photographic material that compliments my seemingly endless passion for photography.”
Adam Miller’s city has a big engine, big crowds of people, big sky-reaching towers, big personalities, big light and big shadows. A landscape that conjures up the cruel, the dark and, at times, the funny, in intimate street photography. Let’s not forget the man also has a penchant for seriously, and I mean seriously, inclement weather. Out in all seasons, shooting the city, but maybe that voyeurism is wired into his soul, into his DNA.
“I am the proud son of an old-time NYC “gate crasher” paparazzi,” He explains, “Who rubbed shoulders with all the hottest celebrities and politicians of the 60’s and 70’s with his Linhof press camera and flash (which I still use today). My Father’s life seemed to centre around travel and photography and I feel that I learned a lot from him purely through osmosis. It wasn’t until he passed away approximately 15 years ago (at age 65 after suffering from Alzheimer’s for over 8 years) that I picked up a serious camera and started my own journey. It is somewhat eerie how this happened from a timing perspective. Sometimes, I feel that my Father is continuing his photography journey in his spiritual world through me down here in the physical world”
A tragic, if mystical, line and I can glimpse the connection. I mean, maybe street photographers are the paparazzi for unknown, ‘non-celebrities’ but equally interesting folks? Ordinary people doing extraordinary things?
“I appreciate that there are many different approaches that people take,” Adam says of his own way of operating on the street. “Each with wild success. My own approach probably has more to do with my ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), which is that I get bored staying in one place for too long. So I tend to be constantly on the move. I seek out those interesting ‘people watching’ moments that tend to elevate my heart rate. I am attracted to those elements of beauty (or lack thereof), fashion, style, expression, gesture and/or colours that define our present culture in New York City, all with a classic film aesthetic. I don’t spend too much time chasing those serendipitous moments or surreal juxtapositions. Others do this with great success. It’s just not my thing. Rather, I tend to seek out people in their element as New Yorkers and capture them in an up close and personal style.”
While admitting ‘shamefaced’ that he has ‘used digital cameras’, Adam Miller remains old school and still prefers to use film.
“I use, predominantly, Kodak Portra 400 colour film for my street photographs,” He reveals. “It is my favourite because it has a sublime warm yet true-to-colour palette and wonderful latitude that makes it nearly impossible to blow highlights (namely from the flash). I also will get the itch to shoot black and white from time to time, and will usually use Kodak Tri-X film. Tri-X is also known for its wide latitude, as well as deep blacks.”
Copyright ⓒ Adam Miller
A man hanging around on the corner of a busy New York street blows steam from his mouth. This photograph is populated with people who, at a guess, I would imagine are heading to or, perhaps, rushing home from work.
“This photo is an example of why I love film so much,” He explains. “And, why I love shooting in the winter. The low sun in the winter barrels through the corridors of Manhattan creating super long shadows and illuminating peoples’ entire body. In a way, the City becomes a giant studio of natural light. The only problem is that at any given time of the day there are only a limited number of streets that are illuminated like this. Consequently, I very often end up walking down a street and having fun shooting people in the sunlight and then running out of illuminated street! I will then walk back the opposite direction down the street and re-start my trek up the same street. While walking in the opposite direction, the low barrelling sun turns everyone into silhouettes and minions of long shadows. So I took up the challenge of composing scenes of silhouettes as a way to have something to shoot while I was walking the opposite direction down the street.
“This photo to which you refer is one of those scenes. The film that I used allowed… shooting directly into the sunlight while retaining the charm of the highlights. And I pushed the film at least two stops in order to torque the contrast and enhance the silhouettes.”
The climate is important to this street photographer.
While I look on from the comfort of my laptop, Adam Miller’s New Yorkers are wading through the weather to get to work, to get home, to find shelter in the storm. A seven year street photography-cum-documentary odyssey of New York City in the depth of winter’s worst weather.
Copyright ⓒ Adam Miller
“The winter is probably my favourite season to shoot in the street,” Adam tells me. “I love how the low barreling sunshine and super long shadows of the short days interact within the narrow corridors of New York City. There are so many ways that the shadows and natural contrast can be used to create unique photographs. It is a season for thinking outside of the box and letting your creative juices flow. In this vein, about seven years ago, I did some light shooting in a couple of the snow blizzards that we had in NYC. I have always been fascinated by how New Yorkers – many of whom are woefully unprepared – hurriedly scuttle around the City while trying their best to navigate the slippery ground, blinding snow pellets and strong wind. I love how the snow, often shifting the axis across which it flies around the air, forms a veil in a myriad of different patterns over our beautiful city. It is all so surreal.”
I like the intimacy of Miller’s work. Whether his subjects are on the margins of low shadows, or staring, or maybe glaring, down his lens a few feet from him, or struggling against the power of the wind and driving snow of a New York winter Adam is there to capture it.
“There is no other place that I would rather be than with my camera among ‘my people’, entrenched in a war with mother nature,” Miller offered. “ I know that I am capturing some truly unique moments on a medium that is rarely used today in these situations. With seven blizzard seasons now under my belt, my enthusiasm for my project continues to grow and develop with each blizzard”
Street photography, of course, is many things, but Adam Miller’s version is an exciting adventure in cityscapes, the human condition – close up – and fascinatingly frightening snowstorms.
His work is a truly remarkable window. An often beautiful, dark, funny, cruel and surreal (his word) representation of New York City, from the camera of one of its finest street photographers.
For More of Adam’s street photography, visit his website
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To see Adam,s NYC Fine Art Photography, visit his FACEBOOK page