Featured Photographer – John Milleker, Jr. (2015)


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ACC: How long have you been into photography?

JM: Since high school, early 90’s. I loved it back then but never really had the urge to take it anywhere until quite a bit later. It seemed like this unattainable goal that I figured I could never achieve. Plus being a technical thinker, it was hard for me to learn what made a photo interesting to the eye. Thankfully once I really started learning the composition side, it was easy to learn the technical aspects of lighting and exposing a photo.

ACC: What equipment do you shoot with?

JM: On my website I say ‘We shoot with everything from the latest digital offerings and software to equipment and chemical processes from the dawn of photography. And everything in between.” And it’s true. I’m blessed to have an interest in photography as a whole and I love every aspect of it. Equipment wise, that means full and ‘crop’ sensor digital bodies and nearly every major lens Canon has ever made all the way up to the 400/2.8 which I bought to photograph the last launch of the Atlantis space shuttle and we were so close that I never even used it! I also love 35mm film cameras and have a few Canon film camera bodies that take all of my latest EF lenses. On good days I get to shoot larger film sizes with cameras dating back to the early 20th century. Up to 11×14″ in size and I’m working on building a camera to expose 20×24″ wet and dry plates. 

ACC: What are your favorite subjects?

JM: My favorite subjects are two that I didn’t care much about at all when I started, people and product/food photography. I believe they’re my favorites because they still pose a challenge. With product photography I can visualize an end result and work at it until I get it just right. I enjoy the technical hurdles of styling in food photography, my styling box looks like a toolbox full of cooking tools for a deranged chef. Finally, portraiture presents another challenging subject matter. It’s easy to make a portrait, but it’s not easy to make a portrait that tells a story of the personality and soul of a sitter.

ACC: What are your favorite techniques?

JM: Pretty much anything involving the darkroom. Lately with 150th Civil War Anniversary events we’ve been devoting most of our time to Wet Plate Collodion Photography and demonstrating that at the local battlefields and Civil War related businesses/national parks. For a process that’s pretty portable and easily demonstrated nearly all of the steps of the way – it’s one of my favorites mainly because I can turn the end result from a fogged plate to a beautiful photo right in front of a crowd. In my spare time I try to spend more time in the darkroom with Carbon Prints, Salt Prints, VDB’s, Bromoil and just plain old photo paper to name a few.

ACC: How long have you been in the Arundel Camera Club?

JM: That’s a good question, maybe around eight years off and on? Thanks to bookings and obligations I don’t get to make many of the meetings and may miss a year here and there but always find my way back to old and new friends and their great work. The club is an invaluable resource for beginning, amateur and professional photographers.

ACC: What offices have you held in the club?

JM: I haven’t held an office, it’s easier to eat cookies from the back of the meeting room that way. Though I’ve held several presentations and demonstrations over the years.

ACC: What photographers have inspired you?

JM: Alexander Gardner, Civil War photographer. Though mostly unrecognized, he’s the photographer that created all of the plates of the dead at Antietam. Ansel Adams is another favorite, mostly for his darkroom skill. Watching a video of him dodge and burn an enlarged print still excites me. And even though I’m not a fan of most of her work personally, Sally Mann’s work, enthusiasm and devotion to her art is a huge inspiration. Sometimes when I am feeling a little less than inspired, I watch ‘What Remains’ or some of the many other videos that have been made of her working on a project.

ACC: How would you describe yourself? Your photography?

JM: I’m the guy who enjoys the road less traveled but appreciates a shortcut when necessary. I tend to dislike spending more than a few minutes working on an image in Photoshop but love spending a few hours working on a photograph in the darkroom. The journey is a lot of fun when I’m afforded the time or budget for a project. 

JM: I like describing my photography as ‘pre-meditated’. Before you press the button, what in the frame is going to make either film or digital post processing difficult? Am I going to need to burn in the skies? Clone out a branch? Can I change the shot before I open the shutter to make my life easier?

JM: Imagine that shot on the wall. Imagine a client or art lover enjoying it. Is it in color? Black and White? Processed in a unique and interesting way? Digital or not, pre-visualize. With this in mind, making the photo becomes much easier. If I can match a location to a photo process or style, all the better!

ACC: Noteworthy accomplishments?

JM: It was a huge honor to have a feature photo win first place in the MDDC Press awards in 2013 in Division C (dailies under 30k) for the Daily Times and then take home best of show among all of the divisions including the local big newspaper names and their photographers. All for hanging out of an airplane with my camera, don’t tell anyone but I’d probably do that for free! We’ve shot at several air shows in the area but our favorite is the Ocean City Maryland Air Show. Amazing acts every year and their people are just the best!

JM: More recent and with my Wet Plate Collodion Photography I couldn’t be more proud that we were asked to bring our living history impression and demonstrations to the Antietam Battlefield and discuss Alexander Gardner on the day of the 152nd anniversary of Gardner’s war changing images of the dead at Antietam. Not only the bloodiest battle in the Civil War, but the first time images were made before casualties were moved/buried. And we’re coming back this year! September 26th & 27th 2015. In October we held our Wet Plate Collodion class as part of a Harpers Ferry Historical Association Living History Workshop. To be able to teach in lower town and make plates of such a gorgeous area was exciting! This year we’re being hosted by our friends at the National Civil War Medical Museum to hold our weekend workshop on October 3rd & 4th 2015 on the Antietam Battlefield at their Pry House location. The Pry House was headquarters for General McClellan and visited by President Lincoln. The Pry House barn was also used as a field hospital. Workshop participants will have plenty of beautiful scenery to make plates of, I can’t wait!

ACC: How has your approach to photography changed?

JM: Every time I think I have my approach down, or get asked about my approach or philosophy it gets changed up again. Every time I think ‘there’s no way I’d want to do that or could do that’, a door opens up and calls for me to try it. I didn’t like the idea of shooting weddings or portraiture, I didn’t like idea of teaching, I didn’t like the idea about moving back to film, I didn’t think I’d like demonstrating wet plate photography – all things I love now. Never assume you’ll never like something, it’s quite interesting how things get sorted out if you’re supposed to be moving down that path.