James E. Miller
A Personal Interview with You and Jim Miller
You: What brought you to the work you’re doing at Willowgreen?
Jim: Here’s the short version of the story: planning to make pastoral ministry my life-long career, I majored in philosophy and religion in college, then went to seminary for two advanced degrees. I served two different parishes before taking a leave of absence in my mid-30s and going out on my own as a professional.
You: Mind telling me why you did that?
Jim: Not at all. I went through a spell of feeling uncomfortably depleted. I also developed some nagging questions about whether my gifts, whatever they happened to be, were being put to good use in the congregational settings to which the United Methodist Church sent me. So we had a little lover’s spat, the church and I, and I said, “I think I’ll cool off a bit and take a walk around the block.” The other day I looked up and realized it had been thiry-two years and there I was, still walking. Time flies.
You: It appears from your website that you do your own photography. How did you become a photographer?
Jim: By grace, as has happened so many times with so many aspects of my life. An avid photographer who was a member of my first parish kept telling me to buy a good camera because he thought I “had the eye,” as he put it, to be a photographer. When it became apparent I couldn’t afford such an extravagance, he and his wife gave me a surprise gift for my 30th birthday: a new Nikon camera. From that day forward, a camera just came to rest comfortably in my hand.
You: How did you learn to photograph?
Jim: Again, by grace. I took a whole lot of really awful pictures until I finally began to get the drift of what made for good photographs. I never really studied photography. I just had so much fun doing what I was doing with a camera that the law of averages caught up with me and some of those photographs turned out good enough to share with others.
You: Why do you take so many nature photographs rather than people photographs?
Jim: Well, trees and mountains don’t move about as much as human beings, so they’re easier to photograph. They also don’t require model releases. In addition, there’s something inherently life-giving and life-affirming in the show nature puts on for us. Images from nature, if they’re done in certain ways, encourage the viewer to make their own associations, draw their own conclusions, find their own confirmations. And since nature goes through fewer fads than human beings, photographs of nature tend to be relatively un-dated—they have a longer life. But mostly it’s this: every time I photograph in nature, I come away feeling enriched, enlarged, deeply satisfied, and grateful. It’s not work. It’s pleasure. That doesn’t mean it’s not hard sometimes. But it’s not a chore. It doesn’t take energy away from me. It gives me energy.
You: You must have a lot of photographs. How do you file them?
Jim: Originally all my images were in the form of slides. I have 100,000 slides on file in six large, specially built cabinets. If possible, I file each slide in one of the six seasons of the year, then I—
You: Wait a second. Did you say “six”?
Jim: Well, there’s autumn, with it’s colorful look, and then there’s fall, with it’s more barren look. Winter, of course, then spring, then summer. The sixth season I call “summer-into-autumn”—scenes where you find a hint of the bold colors that are just around the corner.
You: Where do you photograph?
Jim: Anywhere I can. I try to do photo jaunts several times a year. But it’s not uncommon for me to go out with my camera for a couple hours at sunrise before making my way into my office, wearing a very wet shirt from lying in a field that’s been heavy with dew. I’ve photographed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Bermuda, Hawaii, and Nova Scotia. My camera and I have spent time in almost every state of the union. But a lot of my images have been taken within twenty miles of home.
You: I presume you always planned on being a writer?
Jim: Nope, never.
You: So why are there as many books as there are with your name on the spine?
Jim: Once again, grace. No training. No grand plan. I just learned as I went. I followed my curiosity. My first love has always been to meld photographic images with words and music on a screen. But such presentations have been notoriously expensive to produce. So when I couldn’t afford to proceed with something audiovisual, I’d just put some words on paper and see what they wanted to become. It’s easier and much less expensive to do a book than a video. But it’s not as much fun either.
You: Do you have fun in your work?
Jim: You betcha. I’m a lucky guy. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow (which is rather low on the likelihood scale since I never buy lottery tickets), I’d get up the day after and get wet lying with my camera in the dewy grass and then I’d do whatever else my Willowgreen work called for that day. Some days I read a lot. Some days I write or photograph or create various presentations on my computer. Sometimes groups ask me to speak at various places around the country and while I choose to do that much less than I used to, it’s still fun to meet people and share ideas and take a picture or two.
You: Thank you taking the time to answer these questions.
Jim: You’re welcome. Thank you for your interest.