Archive for December, 2010

“Mama, Don’t take my Kodachrome away”…from the song Kodachrome, sung  in 1973 by Paul Simon

Today, Thursday, December 30, in Dwayne ‘s Photo in Parson, Kansas, the very last of the Kodachrome films will be processed. It was developed in 1935 and existed for 75 years, one year shorter than my life span. It was and is and perhaps always will be the best film every produced.

Photography was built on three films. The first two were black and white—Kodak’s Super X, followed by Tri X. For film it was Kodachrome. There were made for those photographers, amateur and professional, who used 35mm cameras.

Kodachrome was…. simply beautiful. It was sharp, clear as winter air, warm, glowing but natural in its rendering of the world.

The first Kodachrome I used was ASA 10, used in my Nikon and Leica. In sunlight (I didn’t have an exposure meter), I would shoot at 1/250th of a second with the diaphragm set just below f4. I would expose as low as 1/30th F2.8 for bad light (that was my fastest lens). We learned to hold our cameras still.

This film glowed with afternoon light. It was warm, sunlight was golden, it was rich, happy, and joyful—it had a sensual feel and was overwhelming when seen through a projector on a silver screen. It even made me gasp when looking at it, as I usually did, through a loupe.  Yet it portrayed the world as it really looked. A beech or maple tree photographed against snow and blue sky looked as you remembered it. The tree trunk looked natural. There was no cast to the snow (early morning and late afternoon snow turned a golden blue hue, as it really was). The sky was deep blue.

It was best to underexpose the film about a half stop.

Then along came Kodachrome 25. Something happened. I backlit many of my photographs to create the Kodachrome Glow, as we called it. It was a halo of rich light, so evident when using a telephoto lens at a low F stop and the background was fuzzy.  The new Kodachrome had turned wooden. We Kodachrome users conferred and we found out the film had to be aged before the golden hue developed. Some aged it for six months. Others couldn’t wait, like me. So I aged it in the oven, set real low usually for a night, and then I placed the boxes of film on a window with lots of sunshine. It worked.

The film remained faithful in its recording and its downfall began when the Japanese developed Velvia in 1990. Oh they omphed the color. It was a candy film. Bright, garish, shadows a deep blue. Magazine covers popped. I remember seeing some Vermont Life covers of spring foliage so chartreuse, as garish as food coloring; it was enough to vomit. The Japanese had hit on a trend. Popped colors attracted attention, to hell with reality. Advertisers loved Velvia. Yeah, I shot it too.

Velvia turned snow slight magenta, which was okay, and when the sun went down, the snow turned very blue, which I used to advantage. But the best of the deep blues on a winter day when the sun went down was Kodachrome Tungsten.

To answer Velvia’s popularity (and speed of ASA 50), Kodak developed Kodachrome 64 and later Kodachrome 200. I did not like the grainy Kodachrome 200 except on rainy flat days but I used Kodachrome 64 with gelatin filters of  yellow, red, magenta, and blue and movie filters made by Harrison. In combination with the filters and time of day one could do about anything.

You had to know the light. And understand colors so you could feel the change in hue, or what the filter would do with the light to the film.

Well Velvia toned down a bit and won the day. It was a snap to process and the time element for deadlines was a key element to its popularity. Kodachrome became a very pretty, but forgotten, wall flower

Well, today Kodachrome is buried. Velvia is used by some, but many are turning to the more modern palettes of color negative film.

They are holdouts. The rest of the world has gone digital. You just shoot and shoot and have the camera monitor give you the best exposure and then, when working on the computer you put in any color (and transplant that tree or head, if you want to). Anyone can shoot a photo that is technically acceptable. Of the millions of digital images shot a year by six to ninety year olds you know the law of averages is going to yield a number of superb images by people who may never have held a camera before.

Photography is dead. No editing with a loupe, light table, a waste paper basket and some plastic sleeves. Hours are spent on the computer instead of behind the camera. A  pixel color is rendered almost always perfect in the eye of the beholder. Photographers no longer “see” the world, or learn a sense of light, or gain an introspection of what they are shooting. Go to a tourist destination, say the Eiffel Tower. Look how many people are looking at it holding up a camera between them and the tower, They don’t look at the tower, they look at the camera. They do this all over the world. What do they see? What do they experience?

Photography is dead. Oh Mama, why did you take my Kodachrome away?

Peter Miller


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HGTV Dream Home 2011

HGTV Dream Home 2011: Living Room

HGTV—Home and Garden TV— is the leader in home and lifestyle programming, which means they distribute their show to 99 million households. Not only that, their website attracts 5 million visitors per month.  So they created their latest dream house in Stowe, Vermont, a small town in a small state (population, 621,000). Yes, but Vermont has such a good name:  mountainous, beautiful rolling valleys, maple syrup, cheddar cheese and great strawberries. Don’t forget the skiing.  Vermont’s tallest mountain and ski resort Mt. Mansfield hovers in the background southwest of the home making an easy walk to the ski lift.

The home is not one of those hedge-funder behemoths built conspicuously on a Vermont hill. This dream home consist of 3,400 square feet—three bedrooms , three and a half bathrooms and a gourmet kitchen. Living spaces are open and airy, helped by the tall ceilings.  Even so, there is a sense of intimacy with this home.

`         HGTV is famous for their dream homes. For the last 15 years they have been building luxurious homes in resort areas. They plan and build the home, decorate it with furnishing and art—a turnkey operation—and then they give away the home in a sweepstakes. This is a 2 million dollar package that also includes a GMC Acadia Denali, six Burton snowboards and $500,000 cash, which property taxes could eat up quickly.

HGTV has created a beautiful home on a wooded lot facing Mt. Mansfield, near the Spruce Peak hotel. This home has the graciousness of a string of pearls circling a beautiful woman’s neck. The house speaks of luxury, but it is not crass so much as understated sophistication. High ceilings made of beech wood give the overall feeling of lightness, more so when the large windows let in the environment.

Jack Thomasson, the planner with HGTV, did a master job of sighting the house. He and the architects and landscape planners screened the mountainside of the home with a grove of mature beech trees. In the winter, Mt. Mansfield looms behind the trees; in the summer, the leaves will hide the mountain, rendering privacy.

The house is true blue Vermont. Brendan O’Reilly, a local builder who is known for the quality of his work, has a staff that prides themselves on their craftsmanship. Linda Woodrum, of TS Hudson Interiors, Hilton Head, South Carolina and in charge of the interior design, was impressed. “It was a pleasure working with these craftsmen. They take so much pride in their work. I don’t always find that.”

She also used only Vermont furnishings and art. Ethan Allen crafter the furniture. All of the 62 works of art on the wall are by Vermonters, 42 are black and white photographs.

“I love black and white photography,” said Linda. “It is so honest and direct. After looking in the galleries I realized I wanted art that was not…I didn’t want everything to look perfect.”

15 of the photographs are by Peter Miller of Colbyville Vermont, a small hamlet attached to Waterbury. Eight are from his Vermont Icon series and seven are of skiing on Mt. Mansfield in the 1960’s , which includes a photo of Jean Claude Killy racing on Mt. Mansfield in 1964.

Perhaps the most unique of Miller’s portraits hangs on a narrow wall at the end of a clawed ball bathtub. It is of a Scottish Highlander cow, snow-laden, heavy with horns, staring directly at whoever is soaking in the tub. To the left of the tub, facing the Highlander, is a large window looking out on a mesh of beech trees behind which Mt. Mansfield hides.

On December 20 the house can be seen on a video tour at HGTV.com . On January 1 it will be shown on HGTV cable at 1 PM ET (and also it will be the centerpiece of HGTV’s Rose Bowl float. The dream home in roses?) At that time people can enter the sweepstakes and hope they are the one of some 40 million who win this jewel of a home.

HGTV Dream Home 2011

HGTV Dream Home 2011: Mud Room with seven photographs from Peter's 1960's skiing series.

HGTV Dream Home 2011

Bunk room for eight, has its own television set and bathroom.

HGTV Dream Home 2011

HGTV Dream Home 2011: Master Bathroom, with Peter Miller's "Eden Church" photo.

HGTV Dream Home 2011

Master Bathroom: "highlander" photograph above the "Clawed Ball" bath tub

HGTV Dream Home 2011

Master Bed Room. On either side of the bed hang four photographs from Peter's Vermont Icon series.

Downstairs Den located off the bunk room.

Peter Miller HGTV Dream Home 2011

HGTV Dream Home 2011 Master Bedroom

HGTV Dream Home 2011 Master Bedroom

Bathroom off of the Bunk Room

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Author: Peter Miller

By Scott Broderick

Very few know that Vermont photographer Peter Miller is also a talented writer. Those who carefully read his Vermont Trilogy (Vermont People, Vermont Farm Women and Vermont Gathering Places) knew he could craft words but his ability stands out starkly inNothing Hardly Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont – a collection of stories, articles and letters that span three decades of writing. Colbyville is the tiny hamlet where Miller’s home and studio have been for over a quarter century. That blip of a town on the radar between Waterbury and Stowe is made larger than life in Miller’s latest work.

Miller, concentrates on his storytelling skills in Colbyville and treats the reader to a no holds bar look at the lay of the land beneath the window of his writing desk, perched above an ever expanding route 100, as well as his own backyard that shares a property line with Vermont’s Empire of Ice Cream also known as Ben & Jerry’s. The immediacy of his observations lend a gravity to his critique of the forces that would transform the State from a shining example of self reliance into little more than a plastic snow-globe for tourists to a have a shake at.

Some of the essays contained in the book have appeared before in the pages of Vermont Life, Ski Magazine and Vermont Magazine these are interspersed with photos and newer works, but some of the book’s most enjoyable moments are held in collected letters to the editor of the Stowe Reporter. Wit and wisdom coated with a not so subtle sarcasm abound, and I found myself returning for re-reads of these laugh out loud looks at the denizens and politics of Vermont’s ski capital caught in the author’s crosshairs. Miller proves himself unashamed to say in print what many of us fear thinking too loudly and for that we are indebted to this septuagenarian.

Miller began his career as a reporter for Life Magazine in the late 1950’s after a stint in the army and some time taking photos in Europe. He then returned to Vermont to practice his art and craft without compromise.   He takes advantage of the journalistic instincts he’s developed over a lifetime to immerse the reader in relevant and poignant detail in his work, deepening our understanding of everything from the love and loyalty of a duck-hunting dogs to the differences between a woodchuck and a fisher cat, the human kind that is. One of the books prized works is I Poach: Confessions of a Duck Hunting Addict Gone Astray a hilarious revelation that Vermont Life refused to print after deeming it too controversial. This is followed by another hunting story of a stumbled upon a crime scene, a suicide, that reveals Miller’s compelling, almost obsessive sensitivity to his surroundings.

Nothing Hardly Ever Happens in Colbyville, Vermont is published by Silver Print Press in a handsome hardbound edition. It will be thoroughly enjoyed by any literary local-vore but also by anyone interested in sharing in the unique perspective of Vermonts most loveable curmudgeon -a man who champions what is true and best about our State while offering a reasoned resistance to its rapidly changing landscape.

The values reflected in the book are perhaps best summed up in the authors own words: “I feel there is a lack in the 21st century, of the qualities that made this country great: honesty, integrity, common sense, simplicity, frugality and responsibility to your neighbors, your community and the land I have learned,” he says, “that it sure is fun to travel, but the best material for photographs and for writing can be found in the region in which you live.”


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Governor Peter Shumlin

109 State Street Pavilion

Montpelier, VT. 05609

Dear Governor Shumlin:

Now that our state has received funds from the federal government to create jobs and a comfortable economic climate, I would like you to consider a group of Vermonters that perennially receive very little help—people who use their creativity to make a living. They are writers, artists, photographers, singers, musicians and crafts people who are often overlooked, economically, by town and state governments, and receive minimal help from foundations. Too many Vermonters believe that artists can survive on air alone.

I am a 75 year old photographer and writer. The reason I have survived is that I work seven days a week, my family is grown, and I have Medicare and Medigap insurance. I could apply for food stamps. Most of my cash flow is put right back in my business, into property taxes and into fuel oil and propane. Well, this year I hope the bank helps me out of a hole.

Photographers are seeing their income drop in half as photo agencies that license our images have drastically dropped the fees they charge to attract more clients. Vermont writers in this state make on the average about the minimum wage if they do the rewrites and editing necessary to meet professional standards.

Why not, Governor Shumlin, utilize these people as the government did in the Great Depression? They assigned photographers and artists to document rural life and writers to create the best guide and history books ever written on our states.

Now more than ever Vermont’s way of life should be recorded. Such a project would show how necessary it is for Vermont to recognize, preserve and sometimes improve a rural and small town culture that is becoming unique in America. Truly we are an endangered species and would probably receive more attention if we were all spotted leopard frogs.

There are other benefits. In my case I want to database a 50-year span of photographs taken in Vermont. Many other Vermonters have photographs, illustrations, art and cartoons that document our current cultural life. These works, a history of our times, should be captioned, scanned, placed in a database and put on line as a history of Vermont. Such an archive could become part of a state or university library and fodder for books, films, educational tools and media documentaries.

To organize and create this history of images requires archivists, scanner and computer technicians, and designers, not to mention photographers, writers, editors, publishers and printers. Bookshops and galleries would benefit.

So would all of Vermont, for we would be displaying, conserving and promoting that personality that has made Vermont and Vermonters so unique and I am not talking of the tourist mystic too often promoted by our state.

Peter Miller

Author and Photographer

Colbyville, VT.


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