Vermont in black and white

The photography of Peter Miller shows a little state’s character like nobody else

BRATTLEBORO — Photojournalist Peter Miller roasted a pig and went on the road to celebrate the publication of his new book, “A Lifetime of Vermont People.”

“When the book came out last August, I invited everyone to a pig roast party in my backyard,” Miller says. “[Burlington gallery] Frog Hollow then arranged a tour of the Vermont libraries that will be displaying photographs and text from the book.”

Through the month of October, the Brooks Memorial Library in Brattleboro, in association with Frog Hollow, a Vermont State Craft Center, presents an exhibit of the work of Peter Miller from “A Lifetime of Vermont People.”

Known for his iconic black and white photographs of native Vermonters and country scenes, Miller is showcasing a career's worth of images, as well as information about the photographs and a timeline which tells the story of the writing of his new book.

On Oct. 9, at 7 p.m., Brooks Memorial Library will also host a talk by Miller, followed by an artist reception.

Speaking to, for Vermonters

Miller has won numerous awards for his books and photography. In 2006 he was named Vermonter of the Year and honored by the Vermont Legislature for his work in documenting the culture of Vermont.

He has had exhibitions in New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

Although celebrated for being a Vermonter, Miller was born in New York City in 1934 and raised in New Jersey and Connecticut. Miller moved to Weston in 1947 when his parents divorced.

“My father had been an alcoholic and my mother and I had no money, so my uncle let us use his vacation home in Weston to live,” he says. “What did I think about coming to Vermont? I loved the idea. What could be better than a life of hunting and fishing.”

He enjoyed the sporting life, but after Miller's uncle's gun was stolen, Peter took up the camera, and his main hobby became photographing the farmers of Weston.

“When I discovered my pictures were good, I kept doing them for the rest of my life,” he says.

There were no photography teachers nearby at that time, so he taught himself. At the University of Toronto he joined the camera club, and it was there that legendary portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh took him on as an assistant in Europe photographing such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Albert Schweitzer, Pope John XXIII, and Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein.

In 1955 Miller was inducted into the U.S. Army, where he graduated first in his class from the Signal Corps photography school at Fort Monmouth, N.J., and was assigned to Paris as a photographer.

On leaving Paris in 1958, he turned his attention to writing, starting in 1959 as a reporter for Life magazine. But after only a few years in corporate life, where he didn't feel at home, Miller resigned - and brought his family to Vermont.

Here he became a freelance photographer and writer. For 20 years he was a contributing editor to Ski magazine and a freelance writer for The New York Times, Smithsonian, and many travel magazines.

He also took photos for stock agencies The Image Bank, Iconica, and Picade.

To date Miller has authored nine books, including “Vermont People,” “Vermont Farm Women,” “People of the Great Plains” and “The First Time I Saw Paris.”

Miller says that he started work on “A Lifetime of Vermont People” in 2011, when he was 78.

“I realized that I was documenting the era I grew up in and its quick disappearance as Vermont became more homogenized and gentrified. So my legacy is Vermont's legacy,” he says.

This book is about the 60 years he spent writing and photographing the people in this state, and many of the Vermonters Miller wrote about in these books are now icons of the independent, rural Vermonter whom, he notes, one Los Angeles reviewer called “an endangered species.”

“A Lifetime of Vermont People” contains 60 profiles of rural Vermonters through photographs and text where Miller tells in thoughtful detail each person's story.

Miller says, “Many of the profiles illustrate the concerns of the Vermonters I interviewed. They understood that times were changing, and that the traditions, customs, and way of life they valued were being practiced less and less.”

The bigger picture

Miller says he wants his books to be more than just a collection of his photos:

“However accomplished a portrait photographer might be, a camera can tell only so much about a person. With my experiences as a reporter for Life, I wanted to write the stories the people told me when I photographed them.”

The photographs in “A Lifetime of Vermont People” range across 50 years. Some are the best from his earlier photograph books, but Miller has included 40 new photographs taken exclusively for this volume. All the text is new also, his publisher notes.

“A Lifetime of Vermont People” was printed by EBS in Italy at a personal cost of $38,000, as no bank would give him a loan. His solution: leverage his house, win $8,000 in grants, and turn to backers online for the rest.

In one month, from November to December 2012, 171 supporters on Kickstarter pledged $32,350 of a $29,000 goal to make the book a reality.

He says he hopes the title sells well enough to justify $20,000 for a second edition.

The matching color profiles for the book are directly from the original photos to get the best reproductions available. The book, at 208 pages, is in a 9{1/2}-inch by 12-inch oblong format, boasting 203 photographs and 60 stories. The cover is cloth-bound with gold embroidery, and features two iconic photos.

The Brattleboro exhibition marks the third stop of a statewide tour of the work of Peter Miller, which is be touring libraries throughout Vermont.

Other towns on the tour include Manchester, Middlebury, Woodstock, Stowe, St. Johnsbury, Derby Line, and Barre.

This exhibit was curated by Rob Hunter, Frog Hollow's executive director.

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