Ken Miller has his hands dipped in many different facets of publishing. Not only is he a curator, but also an editor and an independent consultant. After doing a 6 year run at Tokion Magazine as Editor In Chief, he published the book “SHOOT”. “SHOOT” is a book paying homage to 26 photographers who capture photography of the moment, without elaborate set ups or controlled environments. We talk to Ken about his life and how he stumbled upon his career path.
How did you prepare for your career path?
I didn’t prepare at all! But yes, I knew I would be doing something creative ever since I was pretty young.
Where were you raised?
I’m born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. When I was a teenager, we’d get drunk on the subway and then wander around Manhattan looking for fancy parties to crash – so my influences were half Metropolitan and half Jersey Shore. After college, I moved out to California because I wanted to experience something besides the city, then I moved back to NY because I wanted to experience the city anew.
Photo of Ken Miller by Marcelo Gomes
Among other things you are a freelance consultant, curator and an editor. Do you find that working on all these different jobs balances out your creativity? Do you ever want to focus on one of these occupations in the future?
Yes, definitely. I love being able to bounce from project to project. It’s a very unstable, stressful and periodically incredibly exciting way to live. I don’t think I’d ever focus on just one aspect of my work, but to me, they’re all so closely related that I don’t really see that distinction being necessary. They’re all just ways of supporting and promoting artists.
How long were you at Tokion? What lead you to working there?
I was there about 6 years… I had been doing a zine previously, called IN, with my girlfriend at the time. (The name was intended as a bit of a joke. Since we weren’t interested in doing anything trendy, IN referred to themes like “invincible,” “incognito” and so on.) My friend Alex Wagner had edited Tokion for about a year, and when she left, she referred me to Adam Glickman, the original publisher. We had beers and that was that.
Did you feel your helped influence the notoriety of the magazine during your stint as their Editor In Chief?
I think we had a great run while I was at the magazine and it certainly grew a lot, launching the Creativity Now conference, establishing a Tokyo office and adding European distribution. I think for better or worse, TokionTokion, Vice and Dazed so I was just happy to ride the wave.
Did you learn any valuable lessons at Tokion that you can still implement in your profession now?
Ha, yes, definitely! Nothing I can really sum up quickly, but 6 years running a magazine teaches you A LOT. As an editor, your job is to manage the staff and encourage everyone to work hard and participate creatively, while also filtering everyone’s ideas and holding their work to a high standard. Ultimately, you’re responsible for the ‘voice’ of the magazine, so I think the biggest lesson was to both challenge and trust my creative instincts while always remaining open-minded and curious. Plus I got to meet, interview and work with incredibly artists, which was endlessly challenging and inspiring.
I was talking to a writer friend of mine and he believes that due to spell check, and finding everything conveniently on computers, that language and vocabulary is simplified. Can you tell us your opinion?
I’m not sure why having plentiful access to language would lead to its simplification…? In the end, an apt turn of phrase remains an apt turn of phrase, whether or not you’ve run it through spell check. (Though anyone who relies on Word’s grammar check function needs to turn that thing off – it doesn’t work!) The one thing I think is very interesting is our re-engagement with the written word, after a century of moving toward purely visual and verbal communication. Internet, email and texting all presume basic literacy, which was something we thought might be disappearing not very long ago.
Can you tell us about the “SHOOT”? What was your involvement behind this project? Did you have a personal connection with the photographers which whom you featured?
When I left Tokion, I edited a book called Revisionaries, which gathered together about 100 artists who had worked with or been in the magazine. I’d always had the idea that the next book would be a photo book. I was lucky enough that Rizzoli was open to the idea. I have an awesome editor there, and she really gave me free reign to develop the concept of the book. I’d known or worked with a lot of the photographers before (like Stephen Shore, Nan Goldin, Mark Borthwick, Ari Marcopoulos, Glynnis McDaris, Tim Barber, Kenneth Cappello, Dash and especially Jason Nocito) plus some folks who didn’t end up in the book for one reason or another. I’d learned an incredible amount about photography through working with these photographers, and gained a profound appreciation of the skill involved in walking into a situation, camera in hand, and creating a striking, dynamic image without relying on an elaborate staged set-up. It seems like the simplest thing (just ‘point and shoot’) but it’s in fact hardest, most skillful variety of photography to practice. There are no second takes when you’re engaged with the moment. So I wanted to pay tribute to that skill and energy.
Do you take photos yourself?
I’ve been taking photos since I was pretty young, but I hesitate to call myself a photographer.
What is it about point and shoot photography that you are drawn to?
One of the things that I thought was coolest about ‘SHOOT’ was looking at the work of professional photographers who (often) deliberately shoot like amateurs, while the rest of us are busy trying to look ‘professional.’ I think the immediacy, intimacy and dynamic energy of these photos is incredible. I also found it really very shocking that no one had already done a book like this.
Do you see a resurgence in the use of SLR cameras since the market is now saturated with digital photography?
Yes, but even more than that, I see a new wave of photographic experimentation, whether it’s b&w, abstract images or digital manipulation. I think we’re increasingly moving away from the idea of a “photograph” (which implies some sort of visual representation of objective reality) to the idea of an “image” (which is wholly self-defined and self-contained).
I find that most of the artists that you featured in “SHOOT” document their lives on film rather then staging a photo. One of the many artists that stand out to me is Nan Goldin. Have you ever worked with her before “SHOOT’?
Yes, Nan’s photograph of Isabelle Huppert ran on the cover of Tokion and we had her speak at the Creativity Now conference with Ryan McGinley.
How do you feel about the new generation of emerging photographer at the moment? Is there any current work out there that you that you feel is significant right now?
I am liking a lot of more abstract and experimental work these days – Walead Beshty, Sam Falls, Alexander Binder, Zoe Ghertner, Taisuke Koyama, Misha de Ridder, Matthew Stone, Marcelo Gomes, and many others… I’m also really excited about the phenomenon of photographers acting as publishers and editors, whether it’s your work with Jennilee(Marigomen) or Jonnie Craig (Huh), Sophie Morner (Capricious), Nacho Alegre (Apartamento), Skye Parrott (Dossier), Tim Barber (Tiny Vices), Paul Schiek (These Birds Walk), David and Ray Potes (Hamburger Eyes)…
During one of the times we met up, you were coming back from Tokyo after an opening of A Function of Forms, an exhibition you curated. Can you tell us a bit about this? How did this lead to Uniqlo UT series collaboration?
A Function of Forms is a shirt series I curated for Uniqlo. We had contributions from Lee Friedlander and Daido Moriyama, who were two of the photographers I first loved, so that was pretty amazing! We also got to include some friends and younger photographers, such as Peter Sutherland, Linus Bill, Paul Schiek and Zoe Ghertner. Some folks from Uniqlo had stopped by one of our SHOOT exhibitions in Tokyo, so we started chatting about doing a project. What I think is interesting is that the photos in SHOOT are so vivid and full of color, but the Uniqlo project is strictly black and white. The whole thing was pretty rad.
You seem to travel often. Do you appreciate just the simplicity of being in the comfort of your home in New York?
Well, I love both! In general, I’m a total homebody, but it’s really inspiring to travel and meet people who are doing something creative. It makes you feel like there is a global creative community, so in the end, everything’s gonna be all right. I mean, someone like Madi Ju, who lives and works in Beijing, is incredibly inspiring to me – her photos are very ‘of the moment’ yet she lives in a country where the government restricts Internet access. So to be able to travel to Beijing to do a museum talk with her was a huge honor.
What was the last art show that you saw that blew your mind?
My mind gets blown by art shows all the time. But most recently, the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition of Andy Warhol’s late work was amazing. 25 years later and he’s still the most relevant artist going. And while I was in Berlin a couple of weeks ago, I saw a big Olafur Elliason exhibition at the Martin Gropius Bau. I’m a sucker for color.
Due to hard times in the economy, a lot of magazines are closing down and are more open to the idea of going online. Where do you see the future of print?
I think print is doing great, to be honest. The main problem that it has is the same problem online content is starting to have: an overabundance of outlets. The number of magazines out now is vastly larger than when I was editing Tokion, so of course the pool of money looks smaller. But once people realize that print and online don’t compete, but rather complement each other, then we can stop having this conversation. Being able to look something up quickly and pass it around, versus being able to hold something in my hand or put it on my wall… these are different influences that reinforce each other. People who read websites also look at books and magazines, and photographers with Flickr galleries would like to have a gallery show as well. So no medium is in competition with the other. Instead, it’s just become a lot easier to get your work out there, which is great for folks like me, but also means there is increased competition for everyone.
Are there any new things in the works for you?
Yup, another book and some other projects I can’t talk about yet!
Purchase “SHOOT” here