Sandro Miller’s ‘Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich’ Capitalizes On Artistry, Not Celebrity
Stage and screen star John Malkovich has played many memorable roles, from his Academy Award-nominated Mr. Will in “Places in the Heart,” to the devilish Vicomte de Valmont in “Dangerous Liaisons,” to himself in “Being John Malkovich.” But, now you can see him exposed and framed in a series of portraits portraying the likes of Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol in the heart of New Orleans’ Arts and Museum District.
Many can argue Malkovich is relegated to a supporting role in photo exhibit “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters,” that’s currently being showcased at the Mac-Gryder Gallery at 615 Julia St., and the real star is the fine art photographer behind the camera.
“It was during my battle with Stage IV neck and throat cancer that I started thinking about all the photographs that inspired and influenced me,” said artist, film director, top advertising photographer and Nikon ambassador Sandro Miller, who works professionally as Sandro. “I realized I wanted to pay homage to these photographers [including Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, Irving Penn, Man Ray, Herb Ritts and Bert Stern] that truly changed my life. They are my heroes, and it’s their most iconic images that really changed the way I thought about photography and portraiture. As these images would come to mind I would write them down, and they became the images I wanted to recreate.”
Sandro’s groundbreaking collaboration features Malkovich in 61 acclaimed photo compositions including Alberto Korda’s 1960 Che Guevara portrait “Guerrillero Heroico,” Andres Serrano’s 1987 “Piss Christ,” Dorothea Lange’s 1936 “Migrant Mother” and Yousuf Karsh’s 1957 “Ernest Hemingway.”
Sandro’s New Orleans exhibit signifies the first time the Malkovich collection has been mounted in its entirety in the U.S.
“John is a genius,” said Sandro of Malkovich, his famous friend of 23 years who has a home in New Orleans. “There’s no question in my mind that this guy has a gift far beyond many other actors or actresses. I mean, he can convert himself. He is a chameleon. When John takes on a character, John truly believes he is that character.
“This is a project that, in hindsight, was just insane to take on,” said Sandro. “We did 40 shots in six 14-hour days in 2014. Then, in August of 2017, we shot another 21 in three days for a total of 61 to complete the homage series. We all knew, including John, that if we didn’t conquer every single shot to complete perfection, we could become the laughingstock of this very brutal industry.”
Sandro also didn’t want to betray his artistry to capitalize on the flash of celebrity. A mostly self-taught photographer, who learned the art of composition, lighting and portraiture from studying photography books and viewing revered works at museums and galleries, Sandro is known for focusing on dissecting images and zooming into their narratives.
“I do not seek to insert celebrities into my personal work,” said Sandro. “And I’d say, in most cases, you probably ought to run the other way, but a lot of people said [this exhibit] wouldn’t have been the same without John, and they’re probably right. But what people need to understand is that John was my muse. John didn’t come up with these ideas. That was not what John was there for. John was there to take direction, to listen to what I needed for him to do and for him to execute in the perfect manner that he could, each character.
“But what happens is everybody wants to talk about John Malkovich,” said Sandro. “So, as the artist, you lose a little bit of the control of what this project is all about because it becomes more about the celebrity than about the work. But I think it’s the real curators, the real gallery owners, the real art intellectuals that understand it’s the work, and not the celebrity. I just needed a brilliant, brilliant actor. And that just happened to be my dear friend John Malkovich.”
“Being able to host an exhibit of this magnitude echoes what locals have known for years,” said New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation’s president and CEO Mark Romig. “New Orleans is a city unlike any other that continues to attract world-class artists and events…. and the city’s ever-expanding arts scene and downtown Arts District are just added examples of how New Orleans distinguishes itself as a top U.S. destination.”
“We’ve received a tremendous reception and response from the buying public,” said Mac-Gryder Gallery co-owner Jill McGaughey. “People may come in out of curiosity, but once they’re here they see the depth and intent of the exhibit. This is a deeply generous body of work, created by two masters of their craft. What makes this project unique is that the alchemy of photography is amplified by the personal chemistry of friendship and professional respect between Sandro and Malkovich.”
“It was all about nailing everything down to perfection,” said Sandro. “And I don’t know if anybody else would’ve had the patience to go through what I put them through in order for them to deliver the absolute perfect performance. And John did it on every single character.”
Sandro employed 40 producers, assistants and specialists to help with hair, beards and mustaches, makeup, prosthetics, wardrobe, jewelry, sets and bees (for recreating Richard Avedon’s 1981 “Ronald Fischer” beekeeper portrait). Lighting schemes in the recreations were decoded by studying extreme close-ups of the original subjects’ eyeballs.
Sandro said “Malkovich” took every bit of knowledge he had as a photographer. As for others who are candidly trying to sharpen their skills in a snap, Sandro’s best advice is to ditch everything digital.
“Put your cell phones down,” he said. “Step away from your computer and go to the galleries, go to the museums, buy books. See the photography done by these great photographers and try to understand the narrative behind the ideas of what photographers are doing. Begin to live the life and study the masters.
“Everybody wants to be a superstar overnight,” said Sandro, whose clients include American Express, BMW, Coca-Cola, Esquire, Forbes and GQ. “That’s the problem with young people today. Everybody wants to be a star right now, and nobody wants to work for it. It takes time to build your name and to build your style. These Instagrammers, these button pushers, people who just take their cell phones out and shoot pictures, they’re not photographers. They know how to run social media accounts to get people to like them, but it’s all a bunch of bullshit. Real photographers eat, sleep and dream photography. I’ve been doing it for 45 years. You look at the real photographers, like August Sanders, Arthur Sasse, Mark Seliger and Dan Winters, the people that have been around, that have longevity. Most of these Instagram guys don’t even know who Irving Penn is.”
Sandro, who prefers to shoot portraits with Hasselblad cameras with Zeiss lenses that give him the flexibility to work in a two and a quarter format, said “Malkovich” took years to produce and it was his resolution to say thank you to his favorite photographers that helped him through his illness.
“It gave me hope and something to look forward to,” he said. “The research was healing and enlightening. I got even closer to these wonderful images that had inspired me and helped make me the photographer I am today.”
Sandro’s Malkovich photos are for sale at the Mac-Gryder Gallery, as is his book “The Malkovich Sessions” encapsulating all 61 Malkovich photographs.
On Saturday, Dec. 14, Sandro will host a lecture and Q&A at the gallery and an open to the public closing reception from 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.
“Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters” will be on view through Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020.