Object Lessons | Frank Miller

April 28 – May 28, 2022 | Focus Gallery

RECEPTION May 13, FROM 5:30 P.M. – 7:30 P.M. Artist talk at 6:00 p.m.

Object Lessons is a series of photographs that uses extreme close-ups and lighting to explore the effects of time on organic and human made objects.

Image of Artist Frank Miller in his studio
Artists statment

I first picked up a camera when I was 19. Since then I’ve taken many different approaches to making images, ranging from the intuitive spontaneity of street photography to austere landscapes. While my photographs often look very different, the physical manifestation of time has always been my central theme in all of my work.

Photographs are events, embedded in the time of their creation, so to some extent every photograph is about the passage of time. And the very fact of experiencing a moment as a photograph signifies its impermanence. I think this is why we find images of things that change very slowly, like mountains and forests, kind of reassuring while things that are fleeting evoke a twinge of melancholy. So, for example, when I look at a photo of my sixth birthday party, I am reminded that I will never be that age or see through those eyes again, and that I too will dissolve into the past.

This project began when I received, and started photographing, a box of tools that had belonged to my great-grandfather. He was a sculptor in the (now) Czech Republic who emigrated to the United States around the turn of the last century. The years of daily use have left innumerable cuts and scars on their surfaces, like an autobiography engraved into the metal and wood.

Around that time my parents gave me a mummified bird they found in their yard, and it sat on my shelf for almost a year. Eventually I started photographing it in the same manner as the tools, and expanded the project to include skeletons, shells, bones—everything that endures after something has died. Now I’ve added the stiletto-sharp blackberry thorns that are ubiquitous in Oregon.

What survives death, the bones, teeth, claws, shells, etc.—are an organism’s ways of protecting itself, and its means for changing its environment. While our tools and weapons are manufactured, theirs have been the product of evolution. Ultimately, they serve the same functions.

Photographing small objects involves a lot of challenges. Depth of field—the degree to which the focus extends into the photo—reduces as the camera moves closer. This shallow focus acts as a visual cue that gives us a feel for the size of the object and is often why miniatures in low-budget movies look fake. I eliminate any clues to the size of the subjects so that size becomes irrelevant.

To do this I use a technique often used in scientific photography called focus stacking, in which the camera is moved in tiny increments through the range of the photo, taking a shot at each stop. These photos are then put into a piece of software that extracts the sharpest portions of each, and then combines them into a single image. For extreme close ups, such as insects, a photo can take hundreds of individual layers to achieve deepest focus, though I usually get by with around 50 or 60.

It’s time-consuming process, made easier using automated track, that usually that takes about an hour or two depending on the image. Using such a slow and deliberate process forces me to concentrate on making one single image, instead of shooting many and picking a favorite. I find it oddly refreshing to be able to work slowly. In the internet age it seems almost a luxury to focus deeply without constant distraction.


Photography by Alexandra Opie

Calling all members and inviting all art lovers!

Salem Art Association is excited to continue our new monthly virtual series for you to hear from some of our community’s most amazing artists and curators. Join us as we lunch and learn!

We will continue our series on Wednesday, April 27  from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. with Frank Miller, photographer of the upcoming exhibition, Object Lessons

Please RSVP to Laura@SalemArt.org and she will send a Google calendar invite your way with the link to attend.