Harrison Miller, Valleys

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2024 by Underlife Editions (here). Softcover, 11 x 17 inches, 46 pages, with 26 tritone plates. Includes a poem by the artist. Design by the artist. In an edition of 200 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Harrison Miller is a photographer and poet based in Knoxville, Tennessee, the place where he grew up. Most of his work is made in and around Knoxville, focusing on the people and the landscape that has surrounded him since he was a child. In his practice Miller is interested in exploring how photography and writing can intersect, and he sees a photobook as a fitting format to share his work. In 2021, together with photographer Emiliano Zúñiga Hernández, he started a small publishing imprint under the name Underlife Editions. The books are usually handmade and thoughtfully designed by Miller. 

Earlier this year Miller released a new photobook Valleys, “made out of love for people and the landscape in which we are confined.” The book immediately stands out as a carefully crafted object, delicate and subtle. It is a slim softcover publication, with a strong vertical orientation. All of the images are printed in black-and-white on a relatively light paper, and the same paper stock is used for its cover, just with a flap. The book is stab-bound with hand-cut poplar shims. A photograph of a path going up a hill takes two thirds of the cover and the flap opens up to reveal the entire image. There are no page numbers or captions, and a short poem by the artist is placed at the very end, with generous white space around it. The book is beautifully printed and the grain color varies a bit with each copy.

The photographs brought together in Valleys were taken over several summers in East Tennessee and the surrounding region of the Appalachian Mountains. Miller finds understated beauty in meadows, wild flowers, grasses, and hills, noticing the passing sparkles of sunlight. The book opens with a rather small image of grass, and its stems along with a flower at the bottom of the composition beautifully stand out against the dark background. It then opens to a landscape shot as fog lightly envelops the hills. And right after, there is a portrait of a boy lying on lush grass with his eyes closed, turned vertically; we can almost imagine his joy of running around in nature and taking a short break. Even with the photograph in rich black-and-white, we can see the sunlight illuminating his face.  

As the visual narrative moves forward, vast landscapes alternate with smaller pictures of creeks, trees, hills, grasses, and branches. The photographs have some variation in their sizes and placement on the pages, creating a sense of dynamic visual movement. The large format of the book, together with its lightness and elegance, also reflects the grandiosity and fragility of nature. Along with the images of nature, there are a couple of portraits of people who live in the region. In one, a shirtless man stands by a pond, calmly looking down, and a couple of pages later, a little girl in a white top looks straight into the camera. Photographs of houses seem to signal that they live in the area.   

One of the last photographs, placed across two pages, captures the vastness of the land as rows of hills and clouds above them appear in gradient gray. This at first simple image is gorgeously printed and feels particularly expressive, and Miller is able to convey beauty through form and texture. A short poem placed right after reinforces the poetic feeling of Valley, it starts with, “She sat in silence / by the swollen creek / bending around / this mountain”. A small square image of a house closes the book, again making a formal connection between the land and the people.   

The physicality of this book, in its choices of paper stock and hand made elements, comes together in a sensuously tactile experience. Together with excellent production and printing, Valleys stands out as a beautiful and exciting art object, and an elegantly expressive ode to Miller’s native land and its people.

Collector’s POV: Harrison Miller does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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