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Dod Miller grew up in the former Soviet Union, the US and South Africa. He returned to the UK when he was 14 and continued his education in South London. After leaving school, he joined The Hastings Observer and The Sussex Express training as a photographer.
In the mid-1980s, Miller started freelancing for The Times, The Sunday Times and later for The Observer. He joined Network which was a London-based independent, cooperatively-owned picture agency in 1990.
Working primarily in black and white, Miller has covered some of the key events of modern history, as well as cultural and social manifestations that bring communities together. His work is imbued with a sense of theatre, casting light on the cinematic and the uniqueness in our existence.
His ability to bring humour into his photography has been widely recognised by national and international magazines and the advertising and design industry.
He has won many world press awards, exhibited at the National Theatre and The Photographers Gallery. He has been awarded two bursaries by The Arts Council and The Photographers Gallery. He has won D&AD’s awards for his advertising and design work and also done a Blue Note album cover!
Q&A with Dod Miller
by Dr Claudia Milburn
Q. What has been your background / training and how influential has this been?
A. At 19 I was offered a place at the London School of Printing but I also attended an interview at a local newspaper on the south coast called the Hastings Observer. They offered me a camera allowance and a car. I accepted the job! My first assignment was photographing a crashed Jaguar car…I knew I had arrived.!
My new boss was one of the people who influenced me originally as he had a great sense of humour – he reminded me of Eric Morecambe and he said he only gave me the job because of the absurd suit I was wearing.
Q. How and why did you get interested in photography?
A. My father had a camera he didn’t use that regularly but it just sat around the house so I used to fiddle around with it. I loved looking through the viewfinder and looking at what was going on through the window.
Q. You grew up in the former Soviet Union, the US and South Africa before arriving in the UK aged 14. How did this experience of living in different countries in your early years affect you and has your experience of other cultures impacted on your career as a photographer?
A. I spent my formative years in Moscow in the 60’s and attended the local Russian school. In my 20’s I started to travel back there to take pictures as I knew the environment. When I initially came back to the UK I discovered that people spoke in a strange language and the money did not make sense. This obviously needed further investigation…
Q. What does photography mean to you and how do you feel your relationship with the medium has changed over the years?
A. I started photographing things that vaguely interested me and I think I still do.
Q. What are your processes and how have these changed? How has the equipment you use changed?
A. I spent most of my photographic life shooting film and using clunky old cameras like the Rollieflex. So digital photography and computers took a bit of time getting used to. But now everybody is carrying an amazing camera in their pocket every day.
Q. How would you define your photographic style?
A. Documentary black and white photography, sometimes square format sometimes not. Not exclusively just the quirky English.
Q. Can you tell me about the humour and eccentricities evident in the subject matter of your work?
A. When I look at some of the situations I photograph I just think how I can make this mildly entertaining photographically. Obviously people throwing themselves off a pier in the English Channel hoping that they might fly……?
Q. What draws you to photograph a particular scene or event?
A. Having looked through old picture post magazines, newspaper magazines, photography magazines and books you can get ideas about what has been photographed and how to approach it in your own style. English eccentricity shows the character and the escapism and the gentle lunacy in us, and it’s always worth photographing.
Q. Could you work in any form other than photography?
A. Like a lot of photographers who did art at school, the painting thing comes up occasionally.
Q. Do you relate to particular artistic genres?
A. As to artistic genre, I’ll photograph anything, more or less!
Q. Who are you most influenced by? Have particular photographers acted as mentors for the direction of your work?
A. When I was working for the Times in the mid 80’s I went to photograph Joseph Beuys who had a show on at the RA. Having never been to college and learnt ‘Art Speak”, the 45 minutes I spent with him was fascinating but I am still not sure what it all meant. When I started work at the Observer in London I got to know Jane Bown and used to enjoy having lunch with her, she was very supportive, a told great stories about the people she had photographed.
Cartier Bresson, Lartigue, McCullin, Rodchenko, Brandt.
Q. To what extent do you pre-plan photographs or is the element of chance your preferred approach?
A. Chance is always the best (after a bit of research).
Q. Your exhibition will follow a presentation of the work of Robert Capa at Messums Wiltshire – how do you relate to his work?
A. Capa. What a great character. And brave photographer. The soldier being shot photograph will be discussed forever as to whether or not it was set up, but the D-Day landings photos are true and extraordinary. A load of his film that was sent back to London was ruined in the darkroom.
One of my favourite books is A Russian journal. He traveled to Russia with John Steinbeck a few years after the Second World War ended and they spent their time enjoying Soviet hospitality and dodging the film censors.
Q. What has been your most recent photography project?
A. It’s part of a conspiracy but I can’t tell you yet!