Spotlight: In a Fractured Country, Miles Boone Looks for Common Ground

By David Schonauer   Friday August 17, 2018

It started with a conversation about Slurpees.

Miles Boone, a commercial and photographer photographer (and PPD reader) based in Downers Grove, Illinois, was on set with a client, a black man, who mentioned that his sons liked to go to 7-Eleven for the free frozen drinks. “So do my kids,” says Boone. “This brought discussion about how our wives worry about the kids going to the store by themselves and started me thinking about how two racially different people can have such similar experiences.”

The result is Boone’s new project “Common Ground.” The series features black-and-white portraits of people from various backgrounds overlaid with their own handwritten words describing who they are, what they think about, and what they wish for.

Here is how Boone describes the project in his artist’s statement:

Common Ground is my response to a world that I perceive as increasingly divided and detached.  In the news and on social media I am amazed at how polarized we are, and, on the surface we are different.  We come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds.  From a distance, these are what we see, but when we get closer, when we engage, our similarities emerge.  I have aging parents, and I worry about my job. I’m a dad. I’m a husband. I like movies and music and books.  And when I talk to others, I find that we share many of the same thoughts and fears, likes and dislikes, experiences, aspirations, and responsibilities.  Despite our differences, we share Common Ground.

“The project really started with the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and all the discussions that have led to the Black Lives Matter movement,” Boone says. “I wanted to do something that could contribute to the conversation in a positive way. It ruminated for a while, but really started taking shape that day on set with my client and our talk about Slurpees.”

A health scare also motivated Boone to start the series. In 2016 he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. “It was later re-diagnosed into a nasty but treatable fungal infection, and I’m 100-percent healthy now. But there’s nothing like a good health scare to help you think about what is important, and I decided to really put some effort into this,” he says.

“I wanted to be able to tell a story, but in someone’s own words, and without having to do a lot of writing myself,” says Boone of the project. “I didn’t want the typical blog-type format where there is copy, then photos etc. I feel that it is harder and harder to keep people’s attention, so I was looking for something that incorporated the text and photos.  After experimenting with index cards and chalk boards, I decided to overlay the portraits with text. Initially, I worked with 4x5 film and double exposures, but honestly, these days my analog skills aren’t what they were, and it was hard to know exactly where the text was going to overlay. It was much easier to assemble everything digitally, so I’ve shot it all digitally.”

The portraits were made with a Canon 5D Mark III and Mark IV and Canon 24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses. “There was one light a medium Chimera soft box.  Sometimes I use a cloth grid on the box,” says Boone.

“Finding the subjects is the hard part,” says Boone. “So far, I’ve relied on friends, assistants who are helping with the shoot, neighbors, friends of friends, and family — anyone who doesn’t run away as soon as I say something like, ‘You know, I have this project I’m working on and was wondering if you’d be interested in being in it?’”

The process begins by asking subjects to write down whatever they want on a black sheet of paper using a silver sharpie. “Then, based on where in the text there may be space for the person, I photograph the portrait. I also photograph the text, and assemble it all in Photoshop,” says Boone.

Moving on with the series, Boone is thinking of shooting environmental portraits instead of in studio portraits. “Initially, I felt that I wanted to strip the subject of their surroundings, concentrate on simply the subject and what they’re wearing. But I also want to show that there are people who live in places that look very different from where we might live, who look very different than what we might look like, but who nonetheless share commonalities with us.”


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