Photography: A Key Element in the Willowgreen Message

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by: Cat Voors, Business Administrator

interview_1Regardless of the extent of your knowledge of Willowgreen products, you have probably seen some of the extensive photographic library created by Willowgreen President and Owner James Miller. The following is a brief discussion with him as a photographer.

C:  Beautiful nature photography is such a strong element of nearly everything that Willowgreen does. When did you become a photographer?

J:  I had a Brownie Hawkeye as a boy and a Kodak Instamatic as a young man, but I didn’t become serious about photography until I was 30.

C:  How did that happen?

J:  There was an avid amateur photographer in the congregation where I was minister. He kept telling me that I should buy a good camera because he thought I had an eye for photography but I couldn’t begin to afford one. Realizing that, he and his wife gave me a new Nikon camera as a surprise birthday present.

C:  That was very generous of them.

J:  Yes, indeed, though I learned afterward that they subsequently took that same amount of money out of their church pledge over a three year period.

C:  Did you undertake formal photography study right away?

J:  Remember: I’m a man and men don’t ask directions. I learned to photograph by reading on my own, by asking questions, and by watching how my friend photographed. Mostly I exposed a lot of film, and in doing so, I made a huge number of mistakes. Then I tried my best not to make those mistakes a second time.

C:  So many of your images are from nature. Why nature?

J:  I know of no more beautiful subject. Or more diverse. I also love just being out in nature, especially in early mornings and late evenings. Sometimes my camera around my neck is simply my excuse to explore the natural world, whether or not I make any images.

C:  So you use nature photography in your videos, books, and presentations because it’s pretty?

J:  Not really. I use images from nature because they’re interesting and informative, life-giving and life-enhancing. I also use such images because they’re undated—they never go out of style. A photo I made of a maple leaf forty years ago looks not a day older than a maple leaf that poses for my camera today. That helps my books and videos have a longer life visually.

C:  Are there any other reasons you concentrate on nature photography?

J: This is the real one: I like the way it’s possible to create images that hint at certain human emotions—joy or sorrow or love, for example—or certain human experiences—being in silence or going on a journey, for example—without making the subject so obvious by showing someone in tears or two people hugging, for instance. Such nature photography gives the viewer room to bring his or her own feelings and thoughts into the images. This is especially the case if there is accompanying music.

C:  How many images have you made through the years?

J:  I’ve never stopped to count. Hundreds of thousands easily. I can tell you that I commonly throw away five or ten for every one I keep. Today I have well over 100,000 photos on file.

C: How do you file so many images so you can find them readily?

J:  All my older images are slides and they’re filed in specially constructed metal cabinets with panels that pull out for easy viewing. You can see 100 slides at a time. When I went digital in 2002, I created a second complimentary system for digital images on a dedicated computer in my small studio.

C: What type camera do you use?

J:  I carry two identical DSLRs (digital single lens relexes) and a variety of interchangeable lenses. Which brand? I always say that any brand is good as long as it’s Nikon.

C:  How do you decide which images go with which words in your work?

J: There are several rules of thumb that I have developed through the years. This topic is complex enough that it needs its own separate interview.

C:  What are the responses to your photography that gratify you the most?

J:  I don’t expect people to rave about the beauty of what I’ve created. In fact, I think it’s easy for the viewer to be taken by the beauty and to miss the message. I like it when someone says, “I lost myself in that one particular image.” Or, “That succession of images led me deeper into myself—deeper into my feelings, or my memories, or my reflections.” I always feel I’ve done my job well when someone says, “Every time I watch that video I see something I haven’t seen before.”

C:  What is the single most memorable response you’ve ever known?

J:  I was leading an all-day workshop in Dayton, Ohio when a man came up to me during one of the breaks. He named one of my early videos and said he had watched it daily for many months after experiencing a traumatic loss in his life. Then he said to me, “Your photography and your narration saved my life. Without them I could not have gone on. I mean that literally.” Hearing his words and looking into his face as he spoke was both a very humbling and very gratifying experience.

C:  You’re a fortunate man.

J:  Without a doubt I am blessed to have found this sort of work to do—work for which I have had almost no training. I believe there is a deep sense in which I did not find this work but rather it found me.

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