International Motion Art Awards: Sandro Miller

By David Schonauer   Friday November 29, 2013


“Working with John I'm always looking to do the bizarre, something a bit shocking and uncomfortable,” says noted Chicago-based photographer and filmmaker Sandro Miller. The John he speaks of is the actor John Malkovich, a longtime friend and frequent portrait subject, and the motion work they have collaborated on is indeed unsettling—brilliantly so. The latest example is the vignette Ecstasy, in which Malkovich plays a feral character named Vinny, a drugged-out fiend in the bathroom of a raunchy nightclub. “I had the script in my head, about this guy f - - cked-up out of his mind,” says Miller. “I had a few lines for John, but he adlibbed a good portion of the film.” The piece, which was shot with a Nikon D800 DSLR, will be included in an exhibition next year at Chicago’s Catherine Edelman Gallery that will collect together work Miller and Malkovich have created together over the past 15 years.


International Motion Art Awards


By Sandro Miller

After a long and successful career as portrait photographer, Sandro Miller decided to move into filmmaking several years ago. “I got started after Nikon asked me to create something with the new DSLRs they were introducing that shot high-definition video,” he says. The photographer also received encouragement to transition into motion from a friend, Los Angeles-based film editor Josh Bodnar. “Josh said, ‘I know you’re going to make the change to motion, and I want to be your editor whenever you do,’” Miller told Chicago Art Machine in 2011.

Among his efforts was an avant-garde video called Butterflies, featuring another friend and longtime portrait subject, actor John Malkovich. The disturbing 1:58-piece about an isolated and alienated man earned Miller the Saatchi & Saatchi Best New Director Award at the 2011 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity—a   prestigious award, and an unexpected one, given how short a time Miller had been making films.

 “I have been a stills photographer for nearly 35 years now. It’s something I do with deep love and passion,” Miller told the 1.4 blog in an interview. “In some ways it’s easier to tell a story in motion because I have a minute, two minutes, five minutes to tell that story.  With stills it’s one shot and it had better be good.”

Miller, whose still work has been seen in the New Yorker, GQ, and Esquire, as well as in ad campaigns for Anheuser-Busch, BMW, Dove, Gatorade, and Coca-Cola, says he took up photography as a young man after seeing the portraits of Irving Penn. The greatest thing about shooting portraits, he once told a blogger, is the way subjects reveal a secret to the photographer, subjects that they wouldn’t share with anyone else. His interest in prying loose those secrets can be seen in much of his work including his remarkable two-volume portrait collection American Bikers.

 It was 15 years ago when Miller, while shooting portraits for Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater Company, struck up a relationship with Malkovich. “We created some iconic black-and-white portraits, he liked the way I worked and we became friends,” Miller told 1.4. Later, he and the actor traveled to Croatia to create a memorable Nikon-sponsored portrait series. “So far John hasn’t said no to any of my requests, which I must admit can get pretty absurd, risky, and down right freakish,” notes Miller.

That would include his video Ecstasy, which was recently named a winner of the International Motion Arts 2 competition. Shot last February, the video features a feral character named Vinny, who Miller describes as “a drugged-out fiend in the bathroom of some raunchy nightclub.” Vinny is the last person in the world you want share a restroom mirror with.

 “John is a genius and amazing to direct,” says Miller. “I had the script in my head, about this guy f - - cked-up out of his mind,” says Miller. “I had a few lines for John, but he adlibbed a good portion of the film.”

The video, which was shot with a Nikon D800 DSLR, has the graphic intensity of Miller’s still work. “In motion work I [also] use effects to generate emotion and feelings, whether it be grotesqueness, fear, or just plain strangeness,” Miller explained to 1.4. “I usually have an idea of the effect or application I want to see in my films.”




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