A Nome photographer was recognized on a list that highlights just 24 photographers in the country earlier this month. Jenny Irene Miller’s work has been featured in the New York Times and won awards from National Geographic.
The Silver List is a collective of photographers representing a range of approaches to photography and different ways of engaging with art discourses, contemporary concerns, and personal expression.
Among the list of just 24 artists is Jenny Irene Miller, an Inupiaq artist from Nome.
“It shows me that I’m on the right path. And it was a huge, huge honor to know that folks recognize me or have even seen my work and want to see more of it.”
Miller said her current work focuses on people who she has “incredible” relationships with and individuals who do important work within their community. She said she works a lot with her old family photos, specifically of her late great grandparents, grandmother, Cora Olson, and her mother as a child. She said photographs have the power to transport people into different realms, which creates something special.
“I’m able to learn more about my family and be transported to that space, even though some of the images may have been made before I was even born. So I think, in a way, I’m forming my own memories through the pictures and connections with them.”
Miller’s fascination with photographs started at a young age. She was gifted her late great grandmother’s polaroid camera nearly 30 years ago in 1994, and began using photos as a journal, capturing her day-to-day life growing up in Nome.
After receiving a Bachelors in American Indian Studies and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photo/Media from the University of Washington, Miller completed her Master of Fine Arts and Photography in New Mexico.
Miller said she was thinking of her late great grandmother about two years ago and wanted to somehow make photos of her even though she had passed. She produced “Tea with Aaka (remembering her)”, a photo of her great grandmother’s tea cup and saucer filled with black tea, being warmed through the sunshine, and it’s one she is particularly proud of.
“‘Tea with Aaka (remembering her)’ is a form of keeping her story alive, thinking and talking about her. It relates to my art practice and this idea of telling the story of people and continuing to tell those stories to keep them alive.”
Miller said the meaning of a photo can vary based on how you read it. She compares reading a photograph to writing a poem.
“Reading a photograph takes time. Reading a photograph is looking at the image taking in what’s in front of me reading the basics,” she said. “We (each) have our own subjective way of viewing and looking and what we’re interested in.
She said some artists will include details in their photos that viewers who rush, may miss. She begins looking for clues, asking herself broad questions about aspects of the photo.
“Read all of the the information that the photographer has chosen to include in the image. So what is scene? How is the scene set up? What’s the name of the image? What is the lighting?”
She describes a successful image as one that draws the viewer in to the main subject and one you can spend time with. When you rush across art, she said you may be missing important messages from the artist.
Miller will have a solo exhibition of her recent project, “How to skip a rock” in April 2024 at the International Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage.
Photo at top: Red ochre balance, Archival inkjet print, Ed. of 5, 2023 by Jenny Irene Miller. The photo is part of her project, “How to skip a rock.” (used with permission)