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Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

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Sandro Miller’s “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich”

Homage to Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967), © Sandro Miller 2014

Homage to Diane Arbus, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967), © Sandro Miller 2014

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters

This has been doing the rounds online for the last couple days, and rightly so. The photographer Sandro Miller has collaborated with his friend, actor John Malkovich, to produce a series of homages to photographs that influenced or otherwise impressed him – all lovingly and accurately recreated with Malkovich as the subject.

And it’s awesome. Playful, respectful, technically admirable, joyful, surprising – it’s just damn near perfect.

I hope it’s acceptable to reproduce one of the images here – to see the rest you should go to the gallery’s own site.

My favourite photo project, ever

I know I only saw it two days ago but every time I see a link – no, every time I even think about it now – it makes me smile. It’s already my favourite photo project. (I choose my words carefully: I don’t say “the best” or anything trying to sound authoritative; I’m singly expressing my personal opinion, and no-one can tell me it’s not my favourite…)

There are a lot of photo projects that I appreciate, I admire. Robert Frank’s The Americans, Martin Parr’s The Last Resort, Tony Ray-Jones’ A Day Off, more recent works by young and contemporary photographers such as Robin Maddock’s III, Mark Neville’s Deeds Not Words – these are all great works for many different reasons, and I consider them all part of my photographic education and inspiration.

But this is the first photo project that I can honestly say that I love. Like you love a great novel or a classic album.

What’s so great about it? Lots of things. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

It’s a project

I love a good photo project; whilst overall I guess my favourite photographer is Elliott Erwitt, I don’t consider that he does projects per se, he shoots what he likes the look of and then curates into collections after the fact. This is cool, I love his stuff, I love the way he sees the world. But a big part of what I like in photography is the tenacity and focus of a project. There’s something I like about the creative mind deciding to do something that hasn’t been done before and painstakingly working within whatever constraints they’ve set themselves to realise their vision. Maybe the fact that I work in project management as my day job has something to do with this? I personally like to have a coherent focus for a body of work (whether a degree assignment or a personal project), and increasingly see this as something I admire in others.

And I particularly love a simple concept, done brilliantly. Which this is.

It’s inherently about photography

I reckon photo geeks must be magnetically attracted to this project – this is unashamedly photographers’ photography. It’s the equivalent of a fantastic covers album. Recognising the works, seeing Miller’s obvious love and respect for his influences coming through – it’s the rare collection that I look at and think “I wish I had done that!“. Also, I’m currently in the thinking phase of my next degree assignment, and I’m working on it being a portrait series of some sort. This has sparked some inspiration. Indirectly, but inspiration nonetheless.

So I love it cos I’m a photo geek.

It’s technically excellent

Follow-on from above point. Now, I don’t normally obsess over technical quality in photos, I prefer the emotion/message/intent/vision to come across, that’s what makes a great image. As Ansel Adams apparently said: “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”… but in this case, where recreation is the whole point, one can’t help but be impressed by the mastery of his art that Miller shows here. He’s like a master art forger! His attention to detail – in lighting, in props, in composition, in colouring – is superb throughout. At first glance at a few of the images I thought the whole thing was a Photoshop stunt (maybe done without Malkovich’s consent!?) but once I read the accompanying story I realised the work that had gone into this – from both of them – and was suitably blown away.

It’s just very satisfying to see someone who has mastered their craft (as long as they apply it to concepts that are interesting).

It’s John Malkovich!

I can’t imagine this whole thing working with anyone else. I’m a massive fan of the film Being John Malkovich, and the very premise (and title) of the collection clearly harks back to that insane film. I love that Charlie Kaufman wrote such a crazy story, I love that Spike Jonze brought it to the screen, but most of all I love that Malkovich starred in the thing! Prior to that film I saw him as a brilliant but very serious ac-TOR and his willingness to play around with notions of his own identity in that film was thrilling to watch. It seems to be with the same spirit that he threw himself into this project.

Add to this that he’s such a great actor that he can bring his skills to these unmoving images – his Einstein, his Dali and his Monroe (!) are exceptionally good as visual impressions, not because he particularly resembles them, but because he somehow manages to embody them.

It looks like it was a ton of fun to shoot

OK, I’m guessing here but it doesn’t look like it was a laborious, grumpy experience for either of them – they look like they were having a ball. The fun is kind of infectious. It’s just so… I keep coming back to the word playful. So many photo projects are very po-faced. This is like a breath of fresh air.

So there we have it. My favourite photo project. I just hope they bring out a book.