PRINT April 2004


A LITTLE GIRL FEEDS DUCKS IN A POND as her father watches from a park bench. German tourists stroll through a sun-drenched square on the island of Mallorca. An older woman lost in thought on the subway. A snow-covered playground. An empty train yard. What, if anything, do these pictures have in common? Aside from the fact that they were all taken during the day, that they’re set in cities, and that most are in color, very little connects them. Some might seem related to the street photography of Garry Winogrand and the vernacular aesthetic of William Eggleston; others could be linked to the Conceptual practices of Dan Graham and Douglas Huebler. Or maybe these images are random observations after all, a diary in picture form.

Although known primarily as a sculptor, John Miller has taken hundreds of photographs over the past ten years, amassing a diaristic archive called “Middle of the Day,” for which he goes out with a camera only between noon and 2 PM. Ongoing since 1994, the series is based on the artist’s movement through cities in which he lives and others he is merely passing through: New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin, Vienna. Whether traversing familiar or unfamiliar space, Miller’s movement is related to a dérive, and, like the Situationists, he seeks to discover what is repressed by routine. This part of the day is ambiguous: the free time in the workday when people leave their desks to stop for lunch, browse in stores, run errands. By 2:00 they are back at the office or in school or wherever they are expected to be—time is no longer theirs alone. Not everyone in these pictures is a working person, but work is never far off. Even tourists on vacation are surrounded and served by those who aren’t.

As “Middle of the Day” has developed, Miller has come to reflect on his own activity between noon and 2 PM, which he admits is his least favorite part of the day. In many of these pictures nothing seems to be happening, or at least nothing remarkable. Concerned with everydayness and drawn to downbeat iconography, Miller looks at things that go unnoticed, exploring the notion of what a picture is expected to be. In conversation he has suggested both likely and unexpected sources. He identifies de Chirico as “the first painter to show clocks in public spaces” and sees his piazza paintings as a precursor to his own project: “It’s the middle of the day, in the middle of town, and nothing is going on . . .” Of Ed Ruscha’s book Real Estate Opportunities, he says, “What wasn’t there made the images look suspicious.”

In June, a third collection of Miller’s photographs will be published by JRP Editions and issued as a boxed set with books that came out in 1996 and 2000. Seen together, the collected images readily call to mind Huebler’s Variable Piece #70 (In Process) Global, November 1971, which proposes: “Throughout the remainder of the artist’s lifetime he will photographically document, to the extent of his capacity, the existence of everyone alive.” Miller’s investigation has its own parameters, and yet for both artists we can identify a shared ground. As Miller remarks, “Huebler’s piece points to the futility of photography . . . of which I am always painfully aware.”

Bob Nickas