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What it is: Introduction to Peter Miller. Last modified: 2003-02-21

Stones of Koshigoe 2

Introducing Peter Miller

Peter Miller is no stranger to this Web site. PhotoGuide Japan has had a Web page devoted to him since 1997 when I first met Peter. Now his page has been totally revamped and converted into a mini online exhibition. Regretfully though, an on-screen exhibition of his work does not do it justice. The full-range and subtle tonal qualities and beauty of his original photogravure prints just cannot be rendered on a computer monitor. If you ever have a chance, you should see his original prints.

Peter is a true photogravure artist. He is also quite academic with degrees from Columbia University and UC Berkeley (Ph.D in sociology). He started his photogravure art in 1991 when he built his workshop in Kamakura. He eventually held exhibitions of his work first in Kamakura, then at the Yokohama Museum of Art (where he taught a photogravure workshop), a Tokyo department store, and overseas in Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Cologne, and most recently London. His prints have been acquired by the Kamakura Museum of Modern Art, Arthur M Sackler Gallery (Smithsonian Institution), National Museum of American Art, New York Public Library, Cleveland Museum of Art, Robert Hull Fleming Museum of the University of Vermont, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, and Musee Jenisch, Cabinet des Estampes, Vevey Switzerland.

Note that Peter lives in Kamakura, Japan and has never served in the US military. I'm mentioning this because there's another Peter Miller who is also a photographer. He was stationed in Paris in the 1950s and has exhibited street photos of Paris taken in the 1950s. Anyway, he's not the Peter I'm introducing here. -Philbert Ono

He has also answered our standard interview questions below:

How did you get interested in photography as a hobby or profession? And when was that?

As a child in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

How or where did you learn photography?

By a half-century of experience and experiment.

What was the first camera that you owned and how old were you?

A Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, a simple box camera, from the age of about eight.

What kind of cameras do you use now?

<1> Linhof Master Technika 4 X 5 view camera
<2> A 1940s-era Voigtlander medium format camera
<3> Nikon Coolpix 990 digital camera

What brought you to Japan?

Consulting assignments in the auto industry, then the semiconductor and printing industries. In the latter I specialized in ultraviolet (UV) light sources and learned one of the key elements of photogravure printmaking.

What got you interested in doing photogravure?

In 1989, when I saw an exhibition of the original gravures of Peter Henry Emerson, an American gravurist active in England in the 1880s and 1890s.

What do you like about taking pictures or photogravure?

Learning how to see. By that I mean: seeing something new or unexpected in my ordinary surroundings, as a result of photo and printmaking activities.

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

Currently: Seascapes around Kamakura, Enoshima and the Shonan Coast, beach scenes, waves, rocks, surfers, sand patterns.

What do you hope to achieve with photography or photogravure?

Contribute to 'visual culture,' stimulate viewers' own vision of their surroundings, evoke or create memorable experiences, provide 'pictures you can live with.'

How about giving a brief explanation about making photogravure prints?

The photo is the starting point, the raw material for what follows. Then comes the platemaking, etching, and printing. A permeable resist, exposed with ultraviolet light in contact with a positive transparency, is adhered to a copperplate and dried. The resist is thick in the highlights, thin in the shadows, so that the shadows are etched deeply, the highlights only slightly. Printing involves applying etching ink to the etched plate, wiping it off gradually so that the right amount of ink remains, placing hand-made etching paper or Japanese washi over the inked plate, and running it through an etching press, which transfers ink to paper under great pressure.

For more details about the process, see the Photogravure Introduction page.

What are your future hopes and dreams?

Simply to share the pleasure I experience in doing photogravure with others.

*Peter's photogravure prints are available for purchase through his Kamakura Print Collection website Exhibitions in Japan and elsewhere are announced at the website. It also lists galleries and dealers in the United States and Europe where the original gravures may be seen and purchased.

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