INTERVIEW WITH CALLIE MILLS
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into photography?
I grew up in rural Wisconsin, just outside of Madison. My parents made a living with their comedy and juggling show, so I knew from a young age I wanted to work in the entertainment industry. I studied Radio/TV/Film in college where my love of movies and television grew even further. In one of my favorite courses we studied composition and the meaning it can bring to a scene. When I moved to Los Angeles to pursue writing, it felt like very foreign territory compared to the cornfields and cow pastures I was used to. After meeting my boyfriend Kevin, he and I began frequently taking walks around the neighborhood and taking pictures of our surroundings. This is where my love for photography grew even more, and I started taking pictures on a more regular basis.
Has your transition from Wisconsin to California influenced or shaped the way you work and if so, how?
I am a nature-lover, and have never lived in the city until now. In the past, I would have thought in order to take an interesting photo, I’d have to go out into the country and find beauty there. Now, I’m giving my urban setting a closer look. The San Fernando Valley where I have lived for the past five years has some very industrial areas-- not the typical subject matter I would have ever thought to focus on prior to moving here. Discovering urban landscape photography changed my mind. Now, when looking for unique colors and textures, I’ve come across still life subjects that, with the right composition, can become very interesting. By focusing on composition, shapes and colors, I am getting to know and appreciate my new setting.
Is there, and if so why, a particular relationship or symbolism in depicting classical cars into your work? It feels like an unconventional and altered typology of collecting memories of the past.
Driving around with my dad as a kid, he’d always point out classic cars to me by name. Since then, I’ve always been fascinated by them, so I think there is a personal connection on some level. The other part is just my reaction to the cars in an immediate, visual sense. The timelessness they lend to the photos, making it unclear where or when they were taken, is also something that appeals to me.
I see your work from the perspective of visual journal of someone who regularly travels but does not reveal their locations to their viewer and occasionally the compositions are unconventional but refreshing. Is that accurate and can you expand on that aesthetic decision?
I think that’s accurate. Not knowing where or when the photo was taken leaves it up to the viewers’ interpretation, which is something I enjoy. When I first started taking photos, I was only focused on the subject matter. Now, I’ve learned the importance light, colors, shapes and composition, and try to take those into consideration more than I did before. Playing around with composition helps me learn what I do and don’t like in my own work.
Your work places strong emphasis, on color, form, light, but I personally feel something which goes beyond the mere representation of the design elements and response to the mundane. How important is narrative in your work and what is the intent behind your aesthetic?
Objects like an old traffic cone, a crooked stop sign or a weathered dumpster can tell their own story about their surroundings, even though they’re inanimate objects. I find these interesting subjects to focus on. I get a kind of sense of nostalgia when I see things that may have been overlooked or have seen better days. Although they look mundane on the outside, I see them as having character. Since I seldomly photograph people, and I think that adds a quiet, untouched aspect to the photos. I don’t stick strictly to this narrative, but it’s something I like playing around with.
There is a serene quality in your images that is seductive and equivocal; it is about design elements but ultimately it feels that it is about something else, a more esoteric and elusive meaning or concern. Would you agree with that assessment?
Yes, I’d agree with that. I love how people will see different meanings behind the same photograph. No matter the intention I may have had while taking the photo, it is ultimately up to the interpretation of the viewer.
What are some of your influences and inspirations in your work and why?
I would say I’ve been greatly influenced by Stephen Shore, especially his book Uncommon Places. I am inspired by his big, vast landscapes that maintain tight composition. William Eggleston has been another big influence to me. I love his focus on ordinary, everyday objects as subject matter and of course his beautiful use of color.
You are an avid Instagram user. What is your relationship and thoughts on the platform? I ask because there are many who are passionate supporters of the platform and other who believe that it negates the value of the work.
Instagram and the photographers I’ve met there have been a big source of inspiration for me. Not only do I enjoy interacting with and seeing work from photographers from all over the world, but receiving feedback on my work from my peers on a daily basis is very helpful. A few years ago on Instagram there was a challenge called the Weekend Walkabout, where people submitted photos taken over the course of the weekend and the judges of the contest would choose a few to feature on their account. That was a great way to get me out of the house and taking pictures on a regular basis when I was first getting started. I love the sense of community on Instagram and it has been a very positive experience for me.
Do you think the formal qualities regarding your Palm Springs work, in relation to Mexico, translated differently? What were some similarities, differences or obstacles that you had to overcome? I ask because I see similarities but also differences; for example, I find your US work more precise and your Mexico work more curious and playful.
I felt a sense of playfulness in Mexico while taking pictures because of the brightly painted buildings and perfect weather. For the week I was there, I felt I could be more adventurous and spontaneous with my photography. I also felt free to experiment with composition a little more. Taking pictures for the day in Palm Springs differed in each of those aspects - the sky was overcast and the colors of the homes were mostly white, with the pops of color coming from the green lawns and classic cars. I felt the need for more precise framing and composition than I did in Mexico because of the geometric lines and flat planes of the architecture.
Do you have plans to expand your current project? Are you currently working on any other projects? In general, what are your plans in regards to your photography?
While I’m not working on a specific project at the moment, I am excited to continue to develop my skills as a photographer. I am hoping to experiment with film this year, and keep studying the work of photographers I admire. I would also like to explore more areas outside of Los Angeles. I’m fascinated by rural desert towns and would love to take pictures there.