Levi Miller

  • 2009-07-19

Levi Miller and I first crossed paths when I was acting in the film Perspectives in 2006. Back then Miller was still known as Richie Mullen. I recall him to be young and enthusiastic (not that he is old and jaded now, far from it in fact!). Not long after we met, Miller was shortlisted for the Young Tate award. Our paths crossed again at the start of 2008. Having both relocated to London, the modern phenomenon of Facebook allowed us to reconnect. Miller had changed priorities, though still working in film and television as a day job, he was now pursuing his passion for photography.

Unpublished and wishing to experiment, Miller established the Outerview project. Needing a launch image, I was more than willing to be his muse. Outerview is an exploration of the model’s psyche. Before the photo shoot, the model is required to answer a series of psychological questions. Miller established my biggest fears, one of which being the fear of failure. Resultantly, our shoot took me to the streets of London where I undertook the role of beggar. It was one of the most challenging shoots I have ever undertaken. Standing on the street begging, whilst Miller shot me from a distance, was both nerve-wracking and lonely. This interesting approach, a mix of reality and creation, means Miller stands out from the crowd.

In a move away from Outerview, a project for which images remained unaltered; Miller is currently focusing his efforts on a new project, StylePigs. A collaboration with illustrator Ted Tuesday, Miller is still studying the inner psyche but in a mixed medium form.

In a battle for the individual artist against the recession, Miller has just launched a collection of limited edition prints and posters. I took a few moments to find out more.

What is your interpretation of the word “art”?

“Art” is such a broad term encompassing so much, it can’t really be defined. Every single person has a different opinion on every aspect of art. Its cliche, but I do believe visual art is whatever you want it to be, which is the great thing about it. It’s the only creative medium that can be left completely open to interpretation. Songs have lyrics with literal or implied meaning, films tell a story through script. Images, installations, sculptures and other medium that rely mainly on vision alone are open to so much more personal interpretation. They can imply as much or as little as the artist wishes. I’m a very visual person so these types of art appeal to me the most. There’s a lot of excellent new talent in all kinds of art around right now which I would love to see more of. The recession is obviously a huge barrier to emerging artists. Once things begin to get better, I think we’ll see a lot of great art and fresh ideas which have been waiting in the wings.

You have experimented with various mediums, so why have you settled on photography?

Photography was always going to be my biggest love. When I was younger, I did some acting, writing, film and sound. There’s something about capturing a great image in a split second. It’s like a tiny adrenaline rush when I get the shot just right, exactly like I had imagined it to be. It’s almost like you’re performing a mini miracle, transforming an image in your brain into an image everyone can see. Sounds weird, I’m sure, but it’s true! I remember my sister and I finding my aunt’s camera one evening. She took a picture of me and we were so worried we would get into trouble for wasting film. When the picture was developed, I thought the look of fear on my face was fantastic. I was amazed by it; I felt it all over again. Knowing you could capture an image like that was one of the things that got me hooked on photography. I was only about 8 years old at the time!

You actually studied film, do you plan to return to it?

I’m not so sure about film now. I did really enjoy studying it and making short films. But what really interests me now is music video. It’s just a shame these videos are becoming more scarce. I remember seeing Michael Jackson and Madonna videos and thinking they were amazing. That was back when MTV used to play music! Herb Ritts is a huge hero to me, so that could also have something to do with it. Madonna’s “Cherish” video is one of my favourites. Ritts had such an amazing eye for beautiful imagery.

What has prompted the Ted Tuesday collaboration?

I’ve known Ted for just over a year or so now. We met at my old flat when he came to my housewarming party with a friend of a friend. From what I can remember, it wasn’t long before we got talking about art and photography and he told me about his stuff. We kept in touch and became friends. We were both looking for something new to do so we decided to work on some stuff together.

What is the resulting collaborative project StylePigs all about?

StylePigs came about because Ted and I were both looking for something new to do. I took some images which he saw and he asked for the originals so he could try out some stuff on them. The images were very different to those we ended up using, but that’s how it started. We decided we would work on some fashion and style images because we both regularly bought the usual glossy and indie mags and all the imagery was so consistently ordinary. We wanted to take an alternative look at editorial photography and mix things up a little. The original idea was to set the series in an underground club. Ideas formed, grew and morphed. In the end, what developed was very different to the initial idea. The whole point of the series was to experiment and that’s exactly what we did and it worked.

Does mixing two mediums alter the study of the human form?

I think it allows for the exploration of the mind more than the physical form, both for us and for the viewer. The most recent addition to the series is a pretty controversial image. On first appearance, it could give a racist, sacrilegious impression of us. However the image is not meant to be a representation of Ted and I, but a reflection of others. Rather than it being based on personal views and opinions, it’s more an interpretation of other people’s views. And that, in turn, can be interpreted in another completely different way by everyone who sees it. That’s what’s so great about mixing media; you can move an image so far from where it stands as a sole photograph or drawing. I haven’t seen anyone else produce the kind of images we have.

You also undertook the interactive photographic project Outerview, why did you focus on the interactive element?

Again, I wanted to do something which had not been done before. I think I may have had an actual light bulb over my head when I came up with that one. I was quite proud of myself! It was also because I had only been in London for about a year and had only managed to meet a limited number of people thanks to my job at the time. So I thought it would also be a good way to get lots of people involved. It was amazing how many people applied to take part. There are still some submissions which I have not got around to yet as I still get emails from people about the project. It has taken a back seat for a while during the StylePigs stuff, but Outerview was always meant to be a long term ongoing project. I’m looking forward to getting back into it again. Hopefully I’ll get to go back to it later in the year, but there are other side projects I really want to do too.

Who would you personally compare your style to?

Wow, you tell me! I don’t really compare myself to anyone, mainly because I never see myself as being good enough to live up to anyone else’s standards. I often find it difficult to live up to my own! I’m pretty hard on myself and very critical of my work which I think has held me back a lot. I recently went back over some old images I had not seen for a long time and realised that some of them were not as bad as I thought first time around. I’m never really 100% happy with anything I do. I think the perfectionist in me is what encourages me to adapt my style and try new things so I’m not sure I have stuck to any particular style long enough to be compared to anyone else. Ritts and Cindy Sherman are probably my biggest inspirations though. If I was ever to be compared to them, in any way at all, I think I would be extremely happy. Even if it was bad!

Who would you personally compare your work to?

I think Outerview is very ambitious, which is why I decided it would be an ongoing long term project. it would be impossible to put an end date to it. There would always be one more person I would want to involve. I don’t think I’ve produced my most ambitious idea yet. All of my ideas start off as overly ambitious. I always have to be told to rein it in a bit, get my head out of the clouds and be realistic in my expectations. I think that’s why I’m never completely happy with my work; I know I could have pushed it one step further. But highly ambitious ideas are not always feasible, which I need to remember.

Are you a believer that art can impact on society, or do you see it more as a simple reflection of what the artist sees?

I think for a lot of people, it’s the latter. I do definitely think that art can be greatly influential. Not all art, not all the time. I think realistically it’s probably a pretty equal mix of both. When you think about it, society years ago would be shocked to see a giant sculpture of a naked pregnant woman or an image of two people having sex. Now, hardly anyone would look twice. Of course TV and film play a large role in the acceptance of those kinds of things, but TV and film haven’t been around as long as paintings and sculptures. Art is a way of purely expressing yourself, your views, your thoughts or your dreams – anything at all. These things can mean so much to people who see them and have a huge impact. But it all depends on what the artist has in mind when producing a piece and how open to interpretation that make it.

Your work centres around people, is there a particular reason for this?

For me, there is nothing more interesting than people. I find it hard sometimes to understand the fascination with landscapes, architecture and most abstract art. It just doesn’t interest me that much. People on the other hand are amazing creatures. It’s hard to explain. I guess I’m just stimulated by the way people work, their changing personalities and features.

Self image is clearly of interest to you, is there a reason for the alias Levi Miller?

Haha. There is, but it was a mix of personal and professional reasons. I’m not as fascinated by my own image as I am by that of other people. What does interest me is challenging myself to adapt and change. I’m really not a fan of being in front of the camera.

Do you have a message you are trying to convey?

Not really. Not yet anyway. I’m sure when I get old and cranky I’ll dedicate a body of work to some personal moral conquest! I don’t like the idea of pushing personal views onto people. Sharing views, provoking thoughts and encouraging people to open their mind is all good, but I’m just doing what I want to do and at the moment it doesn’t include any kind of personal mission or message.

Is there an image you are most proud of?

I don’t think I have any one image that I am most proud of. I’m happy with different images for different reasons. And no matter how happy I am with an image, I will always find something wrong with it.

Is your work easily accessible?

At the moment I’ve got most of my stuff on Flickr and Facebook groups. I will be setting up a site as soon as I get the time! For now, I’ll be selling my stuff online but I will eventually sell it through a dedicated website. I’ve also got a profile on ModelMayhem where I’ve been in touch with a few people who want to collaborate.

And potential collaborators or muses, how can they reach you?

I’m guessing I’m pretty easy to find on Facebook and Flickr as I constantly plaster my images about the place! ModelMayhem is pretty good too as there’s a lot of people from all over the world looking to work with others on various levels.

What can we expect from Levi Miller in the future?

Lots of different stuff as well as more of the same, I think. I’d never give up on an idea or style but I’d also never pigeon-hole myself into a specific area. There are lots of things I want to do already, so I should be able to keep myself occupied for a while yet!

Limited edition Levi Miller prints and posters are now available. For more details you can contact via his official website.

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