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These articles by Nicole Plett were prepared for the January 7, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

In Hopewell: `Faces of Russia’

As a photographer, David H. Miller strives to capture "life as it is." The retired banker and lifelong amateur photographer has spent his career living and working in far-flung communities in Afghanistan, Africa, Europe, and the Soviet Union. And the result is a chronicle of "life as it is" that spans some 35 years. Today the 61-year-old is still traveling the globe, often planning his trips to take advantage of new opportunities to photograph "life as it is."

In May this year, Miller made a return trip to Moscow, a city where he had been a student in the early 1970s and a banker in the 1990s. Knowing that the Russian commemoration of the Allied victory of May 9, 1945, would bring tens of thousands of veterans and visitors into Moscow, he timed his trip the World War II Victory in Europe, or V.E. Day. Miller’s recent photographs, as well as a few from his earlier experiences in that country, constitute his new show, "The Faces of Russia."

The opening reception for Miller’s "Faces of Russia," and its companion show "Double Exposed" by Rhoda Kassof-Isaac, takes place at Gallery 14 in Hopewell, on Friday, January 9, from 6 to 9 p.m. Both artists will be back at Gallery 14 for a "Meet the Photographers" gallery talk on Sunday, January 11, at 1 p.m. In a recent interview, Miller explains that his theme as a photographer is people and faces. His goal is the environmental portrait – images of people in their natural setting going about their daily activities.

"I went to Moscow in May for 10 days specifically for the holiday," says Miller, adding cheerfully that he also happened to catch some of the best weather of the year. "May ninth is still a very big celebration in Moscow with a parade of veterans through Red Square. It’s a reunion of comrades. Veterans dress in their old uniforms, they may even have new ones cut. People from all over come into the city to celebrate. There must have been 100,000 people walking down Tverskaya, the city’s main street."

"I went to look up old friends and with introductions to new friends," he continues. "I particularly love the open-air markets. I spent the mornings photographing and talking to people. I’ll be showing pictures of women selling cheeses, spices, and honey." Miller says he almost always bought from the vendors whom he photographed, but often they insisted on giving him free samples of their products. On his return home, he is in the habit of mailing back photographs to the subjects he has bonded with.

‘Quite honestly, it’s not just about grabbing the photograph, I have such a good time talking to people, relating them," says the gregarious Miller, who is not only fluent in Russian, but can be talkative in several other languages. He says his success in getting his photograph is sometimes secondary to getting to know his subjects.

"I don’t feel predatory, I’m not stealing their photograph. I’m not afraid to stand there and talk to them – provided I can speak their language," he says. "Sometimes I get a photograph before I set up a relationship, sometimes after."

Despite the colorful pageantry of Miller’s international destinations, including Moscow’s V.E. Day parade, Miller photographs almost exclusively in black and white. "I still develop and print all my own stuff," he explains. His exhibition prints are almost all hand-made silver gelatin prints.

"I do a little color, but there’s something more classic, more timeless to me about black and white," he says. "I photograph light – in black and white I can see strong lines and strong forms."

Miller, who is mostly self taught in his art, has been a practicing photographer since his childhood. He grew up in Indiana where his father was a school principal and his mother was a homemaker, and set up his first darkroom when he was in sixth grade. A vocal soloist in grade school and in high school, considered a career in opera. He attended DePauw University, a liberal arts college, where he earned his B.A. There, "on a whim," he signed up to fulfill the language requirement by studying Russian for two years – "that lasted 20 years."

After working with his wife, Kathie Miller, in the Peace Corp in Afghanistan in 1967 and ’68, Miller was slated to go into the Foreign Service but ended up in graduate school at Princeton University where he earned his PhD in medieval Russian history. In 1970 he won a Fulbright fellowship to research his dissertation in Moscow. Eventually, in the interest of providing stability for their two children, he and his wife decided against the Foreign Service.

During the 1970s, Miller taught Russian history Rutgers University, then switched to banking and joined Chase Manhattan Bank’s Africa division in 1980, a company he worked for in Africa and the U.S. until 1996. In the late ’90s he joined a small Russian bank as their credit officer and lived in Moscow again for two years.

Miller’s grade school years coincided with the heyday of Life Magazine as a showcase for black and white photography. "Photographers such as Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier-Bresson, some of the great photo essayists were publishing at the time," he recalls. The photo essay, which has largely fallen out of favor with the advent of the television documentary, was a widely popular enterprise for photographers and one that Miller still leans towards. "I also admire great landscape photographers because I’ve never been able to do that," he says.

His early enthusiasm for photography was followed by a long hiatus when college and graduate school kept him too busy to continue. Then, as a Peace Corp worker in Afghanistan in 1967 and ’68, he returned to the pursuit of photo portraits.

Many of the photographs he made in 1967 and ’68 in Afghanistan, when he and his wife were working as Peace Corps volunteers at Kabul University, were filed away for 30 years before Miller, provoked by the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan of 2001, brought his negatives out of storage and printed them. He exhibited these works in the show, "Afghanistan, Before," at Gallery 14 in early 2002.

In 1968 the Millers moved to Princeton where David began work on his doctorate in Russian. When they bought their first house near the high school in 1975, Miller set up his Princeton darkroom. Their children, now in their 20s, both graduated from Princeton High. Their son Ashley is finishing law school at NYU, and their daughter Rebecca is working on her dissertation clinical psychology at Long Island University. Both younger Millers live in Brooklyn (which Miller describes as "a fabulous place"), but the Princeton home has remained the parents’ base.

That base now includes membership in Gallery 14, the Hopewell showcase for art photography founded by Miller and nine other artist-photographers in 2001. It’s one of the few galleries in the state concentrating in photography.

Miller says his photography equipment has changed a little over the years, but his approach has not. "In Afghanistan I used a Pentax with a 35 mm lens that kept me pretty `up-close and personal.’ Now I use a Leica with a 25 mm lens, so I’m even closer." The new Leicas, he says, have the quietest shutters ever which make the camera even less intrusive for his subjects.

The new Leica, he says, is the quietest ever. "It’s so important when photographing people. One of the things about the photographers I admire, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, was that in effect he wasn’t there. He basically operated without disturbing the context he was in. I don’t mind entering the context, but I don’t want to affect it. I want to capture `life as it is.’" This concept, he notes, is the very antithesis of the art of Soviet Socialist Realism, where the artist was to describe, not life as it is, but life as it should be. "I like to capture what’s going on, how people are living," he says.

Still wedded to silver gelatin technology, he uses Ilford HP5 plus film and papers and old-fashioned developers. Yet he has brought some digital technology to bear on his work. His teacher at a course at the International Center for Photography (ICP) in New York advised against scanning black and white negatives into digital files. "He suggested that we make a good print and then scan it. After it has been scanned it can be tweaked in Photoshop. I’m finding Photoshop more useful."

Such digital "tweaking" came in handy when he decided that an intrusive power line was hurting his photograph of "Four Lenins." Turning to a bit of social realism of his own, he took the power lines out, creating a view of "the way it should have been."

How does a world citizen respond to the troubles of the past decade, the ever-increasing terrorist kidnapings and bombings?

"They’ve only increased my wanderlust! Well, they may be crimping my style a little bit," admits Miller who had a trip planned to Afghanistan this past spring. His goal was to put together a show of images of "Afghanistan Today" to complement the portfolio of photographs he made there in the 1960s. "I should have gone back, but the family rebelled. They were concerned for my safety. There are certain moments when the time is right and the time was right. It’s much more dangerous there now." The May trip to Moscow was, to use his own expression, something of a "consolation prize."

"Of course you know which hotel I stayed in in Moscow in May – the National Hotel – the site of a major bombing in December. The hotel wasn’t the target; the target, I think, was parliament. But the bombers stopped to ask directions," says Miller. The Moscow suicide bombings were carried out by two widows of Chechen fighters who have become known in Russia as "the Black Widows."

Soon a Russian friend was inviting Miller to come and visit him in the Caucasus, the mountains in southwest Russia near the border with the republic of Chechnya, where Miller would love to photograph. The route was also the site of a huge railroad bombing in December. With gusto, Miller tells the story of how his friend pretended to allay Kathie Miller’s fears.

"My friend told my wife and I, `Don’t worry. When we meet you at the airport, we’ll throw a black sack over your head and they’ll think you’re already kidnapped! You’ll be fine.’" The black humor evokes a hearty laugh from Miller. Sometimes, he says, he feels most at home abroad, experiencing and photographing "life as it is."

– Nicole Plett

David Miller & Rhoda Kassof-Isaac, Gallery 14, 14 Mercer Street, Hopewell, 609-333-8511. Opening reception for a shared show that runs to February 8. Meet the photographers Sunday, January 11, 1 to 3 p.m. Free. Friday, January 9, 6 to 9 p.m.

Gallery 14 is open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment.

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Art in Town

Anne Reid Art Gallery, Princeton Day School, 650 Great Road, 609-924-6700. "Ikat: Mystical Textiles," featuring two rare collections of ancient textiles created in the Orient. The ancient art of Ikat is created by wrapping and dying patterns into silk threads before beginning the weaving process. To January 8.

Historical Society of Princeton, Bainbridge House, 158 Nassau Street, 609-921-6748. "Lost Princeton," an exhibit that explores lost businesses and houses. The historic house also has a long-term exhibition about Princeton history highlighting the Native American occupation, the Revolutionary War, and Princeton in the 19th and 20th centuries. Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

University Medical Center at Princeton, 253 Witherspoon Street, 609-497-4000. Jane Garvey Adriance. Part of the proceeds benefit the medical center. To January 14.

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Campus Arts

Princeton University Art Museum, McCosh 50, 609-258-3788. "The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art" features more than 100 Centaurs, Satyrs, Sphinxes, Sirens, Gorgons, and other fantastic creatures in ceramic, stone, bronze, gold, and terracotta. Curated by classicist Michael Padgett, the exhibition explores the role of the "human animal" in early Greek art. Accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, the exhibit will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, next year. To January 11. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. Highlights tours every Saturday at 2 p.m. Free admission.

Also "The Italian Renaissance City: Selections from Princeton University Collections," with rare books and maps that highlight aspects of the city that fascinated Renaissance artists and architects. A symposium is planned in conjunction with the show; to January 11.

Also "The Book of Kings: Art, War, and the Morgan Library’s Medieval Picture Bible," exhibiting the greatest illuminated French manuscript of the 13th century, to June 6.

Bernstein Gallery, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School, 609-258-5566. Exhibition featuring the work of the late Jacob Landau of Roosevelt, New Jersey. Show features oils, works on paper, and lithographs. Gallery is open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. To January 23.

Princeton Theological Seminary, Erdman Hall Gallery, 20 Library Place, 609-497-7990. "Angel in New York" by Russian-born artist Alexander Anufriev. The artist, who currently lives in Virginia, crafts iconic pictures of angeles that portray the heavenly beings participating in the world of human events. Open Monday to Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. To January 23.

Lawrenceville School, Gruss Center of Visual Arts, Lawrenceville, 609-620-6030. "Polynomiography: Mathematical Art by Bahman Kalantari" and "Kip Deeds, Paintings." Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 9 a.m. to noon, and 1 to 4 p.m.; Open Saturday, 9 a.m. to noon. Both shows continue to January 24.

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Area Galleries

Barbara Harding Seibert, Gourgaud Gallery, Cranbury Town Hall, Schoolhouse Lane, Cranbury, 609-395-0900. Opening reception for an exhibit, "Pastels, Plus," by artist Barbara Harding Seibert. Show runs to January 29. Gallery open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays noon to 3 p.m.

New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibtion, New Hope, 215-862-3396. The New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition continues with works by sculptors Christoph Spath, Kate Brockman, Rob Ressler, Dana Stewart, Dan Kainz, and Bob Emser. Host sites include George E. Michael Inc., Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library, the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery, and New Hope Mule Barge. Show continues through April 30, 2004. 9:00 am to 9 p.m.

Gallery of Fine Art, 201 South State Street, Newtown, 215-579-0050. Seasonal show of fine crafts featuring works by James Aarons, Nancy Bentley, Bridget Bulle, Elizabeth Fram, Sarah Frederick, Christina Goodman, Sang Roberson, Osler-Kurki Studio, and others. Open Wednesday & Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday & Saturday to 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. To January 11.

Printmaking Council of New Jersey, 440 River Road, North Branch Station, 908-725-2110. The 29th annual juried members show, juried by Curlee Raven Holton of Lafayette College. Prints, photographs, and alternative print media. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. To January 24.

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Art by the River

Riverbank Arts, 19 Bridge Street, Stockton, 609-397-9330. Works in bronze by sculptor Kate Brockman are featured in a solo show. Born in Staffordshire, England, Brockman earned her degree from West Chester University and a certificate from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Her life-size pieces are modeled in clay before being cast in bronze by the artist. Monday to Wednesday, noon to 5 p.m.; Thursday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. To January 31.

Studio 233, 233 North Union Street, Lambertville, 609-397-0818. Digital photographs of coastal Maine by John Chew. A photographer since 1970, Chew’s studio is in Rockland, Maine, and his influences include painters and photographers of the Penobscot Bay. Open Wednesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday 1 to 5 p.m. To January 11.

New Hope Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition, Union Square, West Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-862-3396. Sculpture exhibition features the outdoor installation of seven large-scale works at sites around the town. Host sites include Union Square, New Hope Solebury Library, the Wedgwood Inn, New Hope Historical Society, Golden Door Gallery, and New Hope Mule Barge.

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Art In Trenton

Grounds for Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. Outdoors, the Fall/Winter Exhibition. In the Domestic Arts Building, "Amazing Animal Exposition" features works by Botero, Butterfield, Grausman, Otterness, Petersen, and Woytuk; Outstanding Student Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Awards Exhibition; both shows to April 18.

New hours for 2004: Open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., November to March; open Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., April to October. Sunday is Members Day (non-members pay $12 per person). Closed Mondays except Labor Day and Memorial Day. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Adult admission is $5 Tuesday to Thursday; $8 Friday and Saturday; with discounts for students, seniors, and children. Admission $12 per person on Sundays. Individual memberships start at $70.

The Old Barracks Museum, Barrack Street, Trenton, 609-396-1776. "Furniture, Curios and Pictures: 100 Years of Collecting by the Old Barracks," a new display in the exhibit gallery is included in the tour admission fee. Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; the last tour is at 3:50 p.m.

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Area Museums

American Hungarian Foundation Museum, 300 Somerset Street, New Brunswick, 732-846-5777. "Everywhere a Foreigner and Yet Nowhere a Stranger," an exhibition of 19th-century Hungarian Art from the Salgo Trust for Education. Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. $5 donation. To April 25.

New Jersey State Museum, 205 West State Street, Trenton, 609-292-6464. Open Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays and state holidays.

James A. Michener Art Museum, Union Square Complex, Bridge Street, New Hope, 215-340-9800. New Hope satellite facility opens with the relocation of the popular, interactive multi-media show, "Creative Bucks County: A Celebration of Art and Artists," featuring 19th and 20th century painters, writers, composers, and playwrights. Also on exhibit, "Pennsylvania Impressionists of the New Hope School." Museum admission $6; $2 youth. Gallery hours (effective to March 29): Open Thursday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday to Wednesday. Admission $4.95; discounts for students, seniors, and children.

James A. Michener Museum, 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, 215-340-9800. "Alan Magee: Three Decades of Paintings, Sculpture and Graphics," a retrospective show curated by Bruce Katsiff and organized in cooperation with the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine ($4 additional fee). Admission $6 adults; $3 students. Winter hours: Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday noon to 5 p.m. Closed Monday. Museum admission $6; $3 students. To January 25.

Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University, George and Hamilton streets, New Brunswick, 732-932-7237. "Newer Genres: Twenty Years of the Rutgers Archives for Printmaking Studios" and "Selections of Soviet Nonconformist Prints: A Western Point of View;" both shows to March 21.

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