As a young teen, Sandro Miller (http://www.sandrofilm.com/) embraced the idea of making photographic portraits after seeing the portrait imagery of Irving Penn. He began photographing in Chicago at the age of sixteen and has since devoted his thirty-plus-year career to creating expressive images from his elegant Ukranian Village studio. With numerous award-winning commercial campaigns to his credit, Sandro is one of today’s foremost fine-art photographers. He has photographed many national advertising campaigns for a long alphabetical list of clients including: Adidas, Allstate Insurance, American Express, Anheuser-Busch, BMW, Champion, Coca-Cola, Dove, Gatorade, Honda, Milk, Microsoft, Miller/Coors, Motorola, Nike, Nikon, Pepsi, Pony, UPS and the US Army. In 2001 Sandro was invited by the Cuban government to photograph that country’s greatest national treasure – its athletes. This project was the first US-Cuban collaboration since the diplomatic and trade embargo was imposed in 1960. Sandro’s editorial work has been featured in Communication Arts, Details, Esquire, ESPN Magazine, Eyemazing, Forbes, GQ, Graphis, Newsweek, New York Magazine, The New Yorker, Russian Esquire, Stern, Time, Vibe, Wired and has been exhibited worldwide. Sandro has a working relationship with the camera giant Nikon and is responsible for introducing their latest technology to the professional photographic world. He has worked on many award-winning projects with Nikon: a portrait session with actor John Malkovich in Croatia; a series of motorcycles racing in Brainerd, Minnesota; a still and video shoot of the roller derby team The Windy City Rollers; a video of the world-renowned high-wire artist Philippe Petit; and most recently, a short cinematic video entitled “Joy Ride”, featuring a motorcyclist racing through the early morning streets of Chicago on a mysterious mission. Throughout his career, Sandro has contributed his talents and staffed studio time to community-based and national charitable organizations by creating compelling campaigns that solicit contributions for such organizations as the AIDS Chicago, AIDS New Jersey, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Arts for Life, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Milwaukee, Dance for Life, Evans Life Foundation, Food Depository of Chicago, The Good City, Marwen Foundation, The Maestro Cares Foundation and Off The Street Club. On November 2, 2014, in New York’s Carnegie Hall, the Lucie Foundation honored Sandro with the International Photographer of the Year award for his achievements in photography. On October 27, 2015, for the 2nd year in a row, Sandro was honored with the Lucie Foundation’s International Photographer of the Year award for his photography of the Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters images. For the past five years, in juried competitions within the industry, Sandro has been voted one of the top 200 advertising photographers in the world.
LACP Interviews Sandro Miller
LACP asks Sandro Miller ten questions about his background, career in and beliefs about photography.
Los Angeles Center of Photography: What kind of photographer are you?
Sandro Miller: I would most likely be labeled as a portrait photographer. I feel as if I am a photographer that has many curiosities about different cultures and I take my curiosities into different cultures. With my camera, I document and preserve moments. I am driven to make images of and from, the real world. My fine art documentary photographs are, in my mind, descriptive, intimate, classic, honest, questioning, sharing, serene and beautiful. I feel joy from the thought that these portraits may become an important part of archeological and anthropological history’s evidence of time, place and identity.
LACP: How long have you been shooting?
SM: Well, I started taking pictures in my mother’s womb till she decided to kick me out. I then took 16 years off and got back into to it at the age of 16. At almost 60 I guess its been almost 45 years.
LACP: Where did you get your training?
SM: My training is all self-taught apart from a short 1.5-year stint in a local community college Elgin Community College. I have a collection of approximately 1100 photography books. These books are my education, well that and the old school of hard knocks, learning be doing, learning by failing. I’m still learning everyday as a day doesn’t pass by that I don’t indulge myself somehow in my love of photography whether its reading a book, going to an exhibition or lecture. I feel I will never stop the process of learning and trying to better myself and my work.
LACP: When did you know you wanted to devote your life to photography?
SM: When I was 16 years old I purchased a magazine, American Photography. Inside on the page’s lay portraits done by the master Irving Penn. One portrait was of Pablo Picasso. I felt upon seeing that photo that someone just freed me from all the confusion of what I would do for my life’s work. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to take pictures and document moments in people’s lives.
LACP: Did you ever come close to giving up?
SM: In this field as an artist and a commercial photographer there are always up’s and down’s. You sometimes loss focus and you begin to make pictures for the wrong reasons. I don’t believe I ever wanted to quit but I did know I needed to change my mind set of why I was taking pictures and for who I was taking pictures for and where I wanted my career to go. Quitting has never been an option for me. Dedication down that same rocky path only to find the light at the end of that path was always what my drive was about.
LACP: Have you ever sacrificed anything being a photographer?
SM: If you haven’t sacrificed a ton of your life for photography, then you are not a photographer. It would be impossible to list all my sacrifices but probably the biggest sacrifices would be the time I missed with the family, my children and missed time spent with the great friends I have. Being a single parent I tried so hard to be everything to my kids but it just wasn’t possible as work called I went and did what I needed to do. No greatness ever comes without sacrifice!
LACP: What have you gained by being a photographer?
SM: I have gained worldly knowledge. Traveling to nearly 80 countries my eyes have been opened, my heart has been exposed my soul softened. Because my camera became my ticket to the world and worldly people, I have been blessed with the greatest opportunities to learn, experience, document and carry in my memory some of the greatest moments of my life. I feel as if I have seen what a hundred people may get a chance to see in their lifetimes.
LACP: What classes do you teach at LACP?
SM: I feel after 40 years in the business I have experienced every aspect of the business from commercial to fine art, from lighting to composition, to branding, to bookmaking to just plain survivor in this very competitive business. I think a discussion of a career in photography would best describe what the class could be.
LACP: What do you love most about teaching?
SM: I think it’s all about the aspect of giving back, passing it forward. Holding onto nothing and releasing it all, so that hopefully you will have impacted even if just a few students to go out there and give it their all to become better photographers.
LACP: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about making a career in photography?
SM: Today I would say run like hell the other way! It has truly become very difficult to make your own mark to stand out and to have a lucrative career. Yes, you can still make it but you are going to have to dedicate yourself for a lifetime, sacrifice more than I can image. Passion, passion, passion and the will to drive day and night down that rocky road.