Sequoia Miller is one of a group of emerging photographic artists who are coming into sharper focus as part of the Rogue Valley creative landscape. After her recent successful show at SOU's Thorndike Gallery, I caught up with Miller to talk about her work, inspirations and vision for the future.
JG: How did you come to work as a fine art photographer?
SM: In my early 20s I chose photography as my creative outlet and got my degree in photojournalism. Six years ago, during the saga of my own divorce, I came across a workshop that focused on shadow work. I was deeply moved to witness the most vulnerable emotions of humans, and to be a part of a safe container to express them. As a visual artist, I wanted to capture these human emotions on film, in their raw form. I began with myself and my tripod, wearing my wedding dress and documenting the personal unfolding and transformation of being real even when I wanted to run away from how I was feeling. When I shared my process with others who were also undergoing big life changes, I was told that it stirred deep resonance in them.
JG: What has been the most fulfilling aspect of your work as an artist?
SM: Working with individuals on their own journeys and collaborating on ideas of how to tell their own personal story in picture form is very fulfilling for me. In a world where on social media we only show our happy, successful selves, it felt so liberating and cathartic to dig into the difficult emotions to move through them. For example, one woman felt like she had to make herself small in order to make her husband feel comfortable with himself. To symbolize that, we took a series of photographs in the ruins of an old sawmill in the cold, grey of winter. The whole series shows this individual wearing her wedding dress, she folds herself into a large steam trunk, blindfolded with a black scarf and duct tape over her mouth. She steps out of the box and discards the blindfold, duct tape and her wedding dress, letting out a big scream. The final photo was taken in the spring, she is seen naked walking away from the open trunk through a field of green grass, blue sky and sunshine. She is looking over her shoulder and leading the way for her young daughter who is wearing butterfly wings and walking behind her. The trunk has her wedding dress draped over it, is filled with colorful flowers that are spilling out on the ground behind her.
JG: You are just finishing up a show at the SOU Thorndike Gallery. How has that been for you?
SM: I began the project Inner Journeys-Life Transformations six years ago, and have worked with many individuals, photographing them in places that are meaningful to them and that help to express what can sometimes be so difficult to say. To see the prints on the walls of the gallery was like watching the series come alive. As a culture we hide our process of difficult emotions, and by being vulnerable and allowing others to share in the experience, it connects us as humans instead of isolating us in loneliness, which is what so many people feel. Each person wrote a personal narrative sharing their process for each photo, together combined with the visual image, a deeply cathartic opportunity for expression has unfolded for many who courageously took part in this process and who chose to share these images. It also showed the emergence into the light, moving through life's challenges and allowing space for the incredible beauty of the human experience.
JG: What new photo projects are you working on?
SM: Out of 13 people whose photos were shown at the Thorndike Gallery, only one of them was a male. Although this type of work seems to speak to woman, I am working on telling personal stories from the male perspective as well. In the case of divorce, there are always two sides to the story. When men are willing to be seen in their vulnerability and work through their deeper emotions, it is not only a gift to themselves but also to society at large. I am also working on a video that interviews people who participated in the Deeper Image process to illustrate exactly what the experience was like for them and how it impacted their life.
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.