Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Graduate School: A Beginning

On my first day of graduate school (I had but one class), I expected to feel much like I did in the orientations.  Introspective and paranoid like I didn't belong, like it wouldn't be long before they discovered that some mistake was made in the office that allowed me to slip in.  Some huge, heinous mistake.

They call this "impostor syndrome" and while I am sure I will feel this way many, many more times throughout my academic career, after my first day of graduate school, in my one class, I couldn't have felt like I belonged to a group of people more.

First up was TV Theory, which will likely be my favorite class of the semester. After the obligatory syllabus chat, not in a classroom but around a conference table, our young but accomplished professor, talked to us about his experiences studying with some of the early TV scholars - before the field was really born or accepted.  People I admit to knowing nothing about - call me ze impostor.

Of particular interest to me was the discussion of one John Fiske, who approached his studies not from the stance of the medium itself, but the importance of the context of Television - how you watch it, who you're with, where you're at, etc. TV not as a "monolithic icon" to be studied at, but studied with.

But, I think it was when the professor brought up his dissertation topic, spy shows during the Cold War, that I experienced a sort of unbridled enthusiasm I've haven't felt in a long time - the kind where I have to physically stop myself from giggling and waving my arms uncontrollably.  Occasionally, I refer to this as a "gay attack."  And yes, that is something my mother would be very embarrassed to read, but something she would likely know all too well.

The class was fabulous enough that I caught myself jotting down quotations (I'm an over-zealous note-taker). Things like, "I hesitate to say this, but you'll learn to triage your readings."

"If you miss a paper, I'm not going to take away your birthday or something."

And when the conversation about leading those class discussions that digress so nothing gets accomplished, "All of a sudden it's like a U.N. conference!"

On being too stringent like the academic, Adorno (who I've never read) , "I don't really want to die on that hill."

To which a Ph.D. student in the room responded, "One of my professors always said, 'A day without Adorno is like a day WITH sunshine.'"

Part of the fun of being a Media Studies student in the department of Radio, TV and Film is that my classes have screenings - we watch works that relate specifically to the texts - works that include shows like, Glee, 30 Rock, The Sopranos, 6 Feet Under, ER, Friends, CSI, Extreme Home Makeover, Mad Men and various soap operas (all of which are on the syllabus).

Then prompted the introductions - a part of syllabus day that I usually find awfully boring - but they were somehow incredibly stimulating.  I was one of the last to speak, and by the time it got to me, and everyone was looking at me, and waiting to hear what I had to say - all these incredibly interesting people, I HAD to preface:

"I'm Taylor Miller, from Kansas.  Toto jokes welcome.  I am an overly enthusiastic person, and I think if I were an 'artist-formerly-known-as' my symbol would be an exclamation mark.  Apologies in advance."

Then, I went on to talk about my interests in the intersections of sexuality and heroification on TV saying that, even though I was a Spanish major - I managed to sneak Xena into my capstone paper, and you'll more than likely find True Blood in my thesis.

The professor responded positively mentioning that he had removed the "camp" section from the syllabus, but, citing all the obvious fans of campy-TV sitting bright-eyed and bushy-tailed around the table, he would be considering bringing it back.  At this point, I stopped myself from spontaneous clapping.

This is going to be a fun class - this is going to be an awesome career.  Occasionally I feel like I am an impostor - what have I done quitting a perfectly good job in this economy - especially when I hear all the naysayers and eyebrow-lifters who think academia is a waste of time.  But to those people I say, I'm going to live a life of constant learning, constant reinvention, and stimulating conversation - I know what I'm doing.  And, although I realize that I am right where I'm meant to be, WHEN I'm meant to be, part of me is sour I didn't arrive sooner.


At our Meet and Greet, in the icebreaker, when one of our professors had to state an "interesting fact," she said, "I'm having trouble with True Blood right now, and if you want to know why, come and talk to me."  I INSTANTLY knew what she was talking about - shuffled over and had a very pleasant, intriguing conversation!  But more on that, soon.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

My New Muse, Pt. 4 - Jessica

And introducing Muse 4 ...


If you don't know her, I think it's important for me to note that Jessica has an unmatched and unbridled enthusiasm for life. She is uniquely intelligent, undeniably likeable and has an edge like a soft kind of 80s song that never forgets it's rock. You might find her in that moment just before the drumline pounds in a Pat Benetar song - or nestled between satin sheets in a ballad by Berlin - or maybe even in that abruptly chaotic section of "Take on Me", you know the one I'm talking about. She's sharp and edgy, smooth but prepared to slice.

It's this sort of 80s tone that I wanted to convey in her photos - I wanted to show you her, as I see her.

More photos of Jessica are to come ...

And that's it! Stay tuned for some photos I found from my past, and maybe a few more of Jessica as I have time to edit.

My New Muse, Pt. 3 - Beth

Muse 3 - Beth

Not often can a person say they had a teacher for college one year and dressed her in outfits five ways from crazy in another. Then again, not often can a person say they've had a teacher as cool as Beth.

Beth is a little Clark Kent in that putting on and removing her glasses changes her look considerably. Before her, I might've thought such an idea was strange - it's not much of a disguise. But Beth can easily transform herself from a pretty, responsible, and studious bookworm to that sexy rocker chick who can throw her shit down and talk you into a hole. I can still remember the shock of the first time I visited her at home, fresh out of her class, and was greeted by a Busty Beth in a tight, dark stringed corset, wearing biker boots, and a choker.

It's this kind of flexibility that makes her easy to photograph in myriad poses and themes, many of which you'll see here.

At this point, it's strange for me to think of her as my former instructor, just because, for me, our friendship toward the tail-end of my college life was so close and important. At times raunchy and exposed and silly. At times very serious and caring and sensitive. It's when you know you can be anything and everything with a person that you've found a friend for life. I cherish every photo I took of this woman, because she is a cherished moment in my life. And while I'm sad that she was near me for what felt like only a moment, it's my hope that we have yet many cherished moments to come.

Stay tuned for when I announce my newest muse and see some photos of her already in the editing process.

Muse 4 - ... coming soon ...

My New Muse, Pt. 2 - Kelsey

Muse 2 - Kelsey ...

Kelsey has the great-natured patience and genuine interest important in making an excellent model. She is very compliant, will do pretty much whatever you ask no matter how silly it may seem, and, well, clearly she's beautiful.

She came into my life when my interest in photography was the most weighted, and grew the quickest - my trip abroad. Being in a different culture/country/world, you notice things others there might take for granted - and when you come back, you have a sort of appreciation for your surroundings you never realized before. Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time abroad knows the feeling. It's almost more of a culture shock to come back than it is to go there.

Kelsey has an inspiring kind of beauty - something strange and unique and powerfully flexible. And she couples it perfectly with an unusual yet captivating sense of style that try as I might, can never catch on film.  She's got class, she's magnetic.  And when you're in her smile - you feel that, if even for a moment ... everything's OK. 

Keep checking as I count down my life's favorite muses, followed by a series of some totally vintage photos I dug up!

Muse 3 - Beth ... coming soon ... 

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

My New Muse, Pt. 1 - Karen

Four score and seven years ago, I took photos for no other reason than because I wanted. Countless Kansan, CHALK, Dulcinea, SUA and Ogden shoots later, photography had become more of a business for me than a hobby - and this was not what I wanted. Walking the fine line between doing something you enjoy for work, and doing something for work you no longer enjoy can be something of a balancing act.

What made it more difficult was that, while I might've once enjoyed taking pictures of pretty landscapes, or insects or flowers, these photos just no longer interest me. I want emotions in my photos - I want relateability, a connection. I want to show you something beautiful you might have let go unnoticed before, something I think you should notice. 

Having said that, my life's three previous muses have exited stage left, or are no longer able to participate in photoshoots in the kind of capacity I sometimes demand.

Each of them suffered countless hours of my "tilt your head this way" and "smile with only one part of your mouth" and, "stoic, be stoic ... mmm not that stoic!"s. They let me squirt ketchup on them, apply artificial eyelashes, smear them with makeup and blow-dry hot air in their face to make it seem as though the studio had a gentle breeze that day.

But they always held their composure, stayed in character, and developed beautifully in the final product, something I could hold up and be proud.

Muse 1 - Karen. 
Karen had the unfortunate position of being the girlfriend and the model, which is never a smart combination. OK, so we were really more like best friends (see her in her prom gown below), but this woman and her family really encouraged me to take photos in a way that had never been encouraged, and as a result, Karen got stuck in more and more situations that demanded her to pose (and in some of these photos, she's posing as a victim of the Holocaust).The self-discovery that came with photography for me during that time in my life is immeasurable. I wasn't very technically good, and some of these photos are particularly embarrassing to share with you now, but isn't that the nature of art? A kind of vulnerability, something, that, at one point in your life, gave you great pride, and in another, reminded you of some primal-figure you might've scribbled as a child specifically to smack on the fridge. Was that art?

I'm sure that many of my favorite photos now will seem silly and young to me in ten years, but, unlike Vanilla Ice, I won't go scratching through my past, embarrassed of who I was, but rather, learning to become who I want to be.

Keep checking as I count down my life's favorite muses, followed by a series of some totally vintage photos I dug up!

Muse 2 - Kelsey ... coming soon ...