Fixing Our Focus on Photographer BOBBY MILLER
By Lori Zimmer
As a person obsessed with both art and New York nightlife in the early 1980s, Bobby Miller’s photographs are like a time machine to me. Also fascinated by this time (and lucky enough to be old enough to experience it), Miller installed himself in Studio 54, documenting the iconic history of New York’s most famous club and its legendary happenings for three years. His archives are like being a fly on the wall, letting viewers who were too young or geographically challenged experience just a glimmer of the glamour and celebration that nightlife in the city once was.
Being a toddler in the early ’80s, I can only dream of the days when Wall Street dudes danced with drag queens, when Salvador Dali floated around New York, and Robert Mapplethorpe changed the face of New York portraiture (and Patti Smith’s life). Miller’s extensive photographs feed this need in me, fueling my escapist daydream of when creativity oozed out of Manhattan.
Lori Zimmer: You’ve been photographing fabulous people for decades, have any stuck out as particularly wild or memorable shoots?
Bobby Miller: The most memorable shoot would have to be catching the amazing Edie Beale on the night of her opening of Grey Gardens at The New York Film Festival and after party at Studio 54.
LZ: How did you get into photographing Studio 54?
BM: The night Studio 54 opened I was invited by a friend and even though I wasn’t taking pictures out and about then, I decided to take my camera with me to the opening of Studio and then I stayed for 3 years and took pictures every night. I didn’t publish any of that work for 20 years until Fabulous! A Photographic Diary of Studio 54 in 1998 with St. Martin’s Press. Being out of print since then,I have recently rereleased it as a REDUX version with 36 new color images to celebrate the 36th anniversary of Studio 54.
LZ: You’ve obviously known the founder of this magazine Patrick McMullan for quite some time. How did you meet Patrick?
BM: I met Patrick through my girlfriend at the time, Lisa Edelstein, at a party at Palladium Nightclub in 1985 and subsequently Patrick would come to my meditation class that I taught until 1987. With the busy life Patrick was leading at the time and since, I think he found meditation was a way to handle the stress of the nightlife that demand so much of his time and focus.
LZ: New York has changed, and your work has gone from event-style documentation to more set-up portraiture. What caused the transition?
BM: Even though I was shooting portraiture beginning in 1975 , I was a hair stylist / make up artist to some of New York’s greatest photographers including Robert Mapplethorpe, Lynn Goldsmith and Christopher Makos. After my 3 year stint at Studio 54 I began to go out and shoot events in NYC including The NYC Gay Pride Parade, The NYC Halloween Parade, Wigstock and at most of the great nightclubs of the ’70s, ’80s & ’90s. I retired in 2000 after the closing of Jackie 60 / Mother Nightclub and moved to Provincetown Massachusetts. Retirement lasted about a year and then I opened my studio here in Ptown beginning again to shoot portraits and have just published my 19th book.
LZ: What is your proudest photographic moment?
BM: My proudest photographic moment would have to be the period in which I followed Salvadore Dali around NYC every day for a month until he finally posed for me and I got to know him until his passing in 1989.
LZ: If you could photograph anyone you haven’t photographed yet, who would it be?
BM: I think the person I would most like to get in front of my camera would be Lady Gaga simply because of her many different looks and also Stevie Nicks, Ann Wilson from Heart and Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro.
LZ: Tell me a bit about your newest book.
BM: My newest book Diva’s, Dudes & Dandies covers a period from 1975 to 2013 and includes both unknown beauties, superstars and legendary people from the NYC underground scene. It is all in black & white, which I have returned to after the past 4 books of color photographs. All of my books can be previewed and purchased here: http://www.blurb.com/user/store/TroubleBlond
Bobby Miller is a poet and photographer.
Written by Lori Zimmer
Photography © & Courtesy of Bobby Miller
Design by Marie Havens
Little Edie Beale (Edith Bouvier Beale), Photography © & Courtesy of Bobby Miller
L: Diva’s, Dudes & Dandies Book Cover; R: Jackie Beat, Photography © & Courtesy of Bobby Miller
L: Joe Bruno; R: Dandy Darkly, Photography © & Courtesy of Bobby Miller