Remains: Photographs by Frank Miller
January 18 – August 14, 2011
Roger W. Rogers Gallery
In his series “Remains”, Frank Miller finds beauty in ugliness and value in the worthless. The photographs record discarded consumer items found along the banks of the Willamette River in Salem’s Minto Brown Park, and are characterized by a startling contrast between the verdant landscape and the mundane items of trash that litter it. Far from presenting the discarded items as ugly and intrusive, Miller has photographed them with a sensitivity that borders on reverence. It is as if the act of photographing abandoned objects represents an effort to restore their value and dignity.
The photographs have a post-apocalyptic feeling. They give us a sense of what the world would be like if people simply disappeared from the face of the earth overnight. They are filled with a sense of absence and loss. The images present a littered and empty Garden of Eden, a skewed and dystopian paradise.
On one level Miller conducts what could be described as a visual archeology of consumerism, but on another level he invites the viewer to construct a narrative for each object that tacks its trajectory from being treasured and new to being worn and discarded. Miller reminds us that all things must end, and that endings are often intertwined with loss and sadness.
The objects Miller records with such care were at one point an intimate part of people’s lives: a private item of clothing, a cherished bible, a warm, familiar comforter, and the door of a once-beloved car. These formerly treasured objects, once used by people to define and express their individuality, are now poignantly abandoned and divorced from their original context.
Miller explains that the impetus for this series came from the experience of travelling to Cambodia on his honeymoon. He visited the meadow outside Phnom Penh where the Khmer Rouge conducted most of their executions, and was struck by the bits of clothing that protruded from the ground, which was saturated by the bones of the dead. Miller explains his experience as follows:”Wandering through all of this the horror of what had happened hit home when I found the fragments of a woman’s bright floral blouse coming out of the ground. I immediately had a mental image of this woman’s fingers moving over the clothing in a store, making the selection that she did, thinking that it made her feel happy, prettier-and then ultimately dying in it. That this bit of cloth was the only way I could know of her existence was at once sad and humiliating, and I felt useless in the face of history.”
Frank Miller is the Visual Assets Manager for Willamette University’s Office of Marketing Communications. He has worked at Willamette since 2002, providing photographs and video for various university communications. His personal work has been exhibited at the Portland Museum of Art, The Jordan Schnitzer Museum in Eugene, and the Bush Gallery in Salem. This is his first exhibition at Willamette.