One Hour Photo: Mark Takamichi Miller's Stolen Ghosts

6 November, 2005

wedding photopainted in oil

Painter Mark Takamichi Miller pairs a keen eye for the poignancy of lost personal photographs with a material muscularity that neutralizes the potential sentamentality of his chosen subject matter.

Miller is an accomplished connoisseur of the lost or forgotten personal snapshot. He is a devotee of Costco's collection of unclaimed rolls (including a well-developed sense of the ethics of the situation which involve replacing one of the two sets of prints so that the original photographer keeps a chance to claim them). These lost photographs, filled to brimming with closely treasured and carefully captured (and thus dangerously cliched) personal memories, might make for soggy building material for a painter that aimed to make anything more ambitious than a recreation of the pictures' original effect. But Miller makes magic out of them, toughening up their impact with rough surfaces and liquid paint handling that somehow communicates the photographs' specificities while belying their actual details.

mother and son painting on raw canvas from a lost photograph

With another series based on a roll he found while hiking (from which the above painting derives) , Miller pushes this specificity even further, building up his smeary versions of the photographic figures in many layers of paint applied directly to raw canvas. This trick gives the figures, which Miller plucks from their surrounding settings, a physicality that, at least in reproduction, is shockingly close to bas relief.

oil painting of a woman holding a baby from the dumpstered-photograph of an evicted family

In a kind of final flowering and logical conclusion of this progression, Miller produced a series paintings from a roll of film found "in a dumpster along with a whole household full of belongings." Apparently a common artifact of eviction in run down neighborhoods, "these were the last pictures these people took before the disruption." Unlike in the previous two sets, Miller made these paintings on glass and then scraped the dry results loose so the painted-figures could hang directly on the wall. With this treatment, the snapshots' subjects have finally completed their transformation into ghosts, breaking free from their original tragic context to mutely haunt the gallery walls.

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