Steven Miller has been producing beautiful and courageous photographic work for 20 years, exploring themes like queer resistance and resilience, the sublime and hot gay sex.
his series, Subsumed, borrows from all of these interests, as it focuses on nude figures suspended in underwater scenes. The photos capture the sublimity of lean bathing in the classic sense: the beauty of both aquatic and human bodies, the terror of uncharted waters, and the childlike curiosity that pushes us forward despite our fears.
In our conversation, Miller dives deep into his relationship with the world below and the “little queer bubble” through which he sees the world.
The pictures of your Subsumed the series are so ethereal, so otherworldly, how did you come to create this beautiful body of work?
I only found out about goggles last year, and they allowed me to see clearly underwater for the first time since childhood. It was a revelation! I have been swimming with my friend Douglas for years, but for the first time I saw his shape and the way the light reflected and refracted around him. I knew I had to document it and others, so I rented underwater camera gear.
Nudity seems totally essential to these portraits, what are you aiming to express with this creative decision?
Swimsuits immediately date photographs, and I like to make images that exist outside of time and space. Also, if I’m honest, I really like naked bodies in all their forms.
It shows, there is such a festive tone, everything is so affirmative.
I’m glad it’s over! It was great to capture their exuberance underwater.
I’m really drawn to certain details in these images: the positions of the body, the bubbles, the rays of the sun, the addition of flowers. What creative control do you impose on your end results, instead of just following the “flow”?
I led people for a large part, and a handful of swimmers had their own program which I was happy to document. Once a spot is picked with the sun in the right place, that state of flux happens, and it feels like collaboration every time. Greta brings flowers every time she comes, so it seemed like a no-brainer to make them part of her image.
So pretty. Have other images been customized for the subject?
My friend Griff wanted to appear as the hanged man, and local artist Douglas Ridings worked with me five or six times to make pictures at the bottom of the lake.
I see you always pushing your art forward, always on the cutting edge of technology. Whether you’re playing bass in the revolutionary post-industrial/punk band ¡Tchkung!, photographing yourself marrying a giant turd, pouring milk on your friends or burning porn…whatever is the common thread for you?
I like archetypal figures who do ambiguous things. If there is a sense of absurdity or impossibility in the image, even better. For decades, con stories have been some of my favorites to tell, and for the past four years I’ve been working through the elements. I am drawn to the mythical and like to center homosexuality in unexpected places. Every time the camera comes out, I think of it as a weird little bubble where anything can happen.
You’re a little queer bubble.
I say make your own queer utopia. In this completely fucked up world we live in, happiness looks like a radical act. I spent years being depressed and feeling out of place. Making art gave me a voice that allowed me to find my people. These friends are my lifeline on this planet, and most of them are in my photographs over the past 20 years. Every queer person who finds my art online and writes me a letter, it’s like I’m doing my part to spread the word: you matter, you belong. Let’s make our short stay here shine as bright as possible.