One In A Miille-On: An Interview With The Surrealist Photographer, James Miille

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” — Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Photo by Nicholas McManus. Republished with permission.
Photo by Nicholas McManus. Republished with permission.

Have you ever dared to dream about what life in the rabbit hole is like? Don’t be silly! No actually do, because photographic artist James Miille would know. For 365 days, the visionary embarked on an exhibition of which he produced one dazzling photograph every day. Mr. Miille (pronounced “Milly”) premiered his first solo show this past Thursday, June 18th at Gallery 151 Annex. It was a smashing hit!

What better way to discover the cleverness of this magical fellow, than to sit down and chat with him over a cup of tea filled with rosé?

Ladies, Gentlemen, Smoking caterpillars, Madhatters, and the rest of you, please allow me to pull back a curtain revealing the life and mind of James Miille; a strange and beautiful place!

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by Bernadette Lords. Used with permission.

Thought Catalog: I first discovered you at the Select Art Fair, and was tickled pink by your enchanted and playful imagination. Where did you grow up?
James Miille: I grew up in the rolling hills of Livermore, California’s wine country.

TC: Did you have an enchanted childhood?
JM: You could say I had an enchanted childhood! I grew up on a 22-acre olive orchard with over a thousand olive trees and lived five minutes away from hills filled with windmills. It was the perfect landscape to trigger my imagination.

TC: How have you maintained such an active and gorgeous imagination since childhood?
JM: When I was a kid I was always drawing, and to this day I always have a sketchbook on hand. I always drew other worlds, and now I bring them to life with my photography.

TC: How would you classify your work?
JM: I would classify my work as hypersurrealism — I take real-world elements and put them together to create impossible universes.

TC: What songs and movies are playing on repeat in your head?
JM: Songs? I’d say “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” by Coldplay and “Moth’s Wings” by Passion Pit. Movies would probably be Moulin Rouge and Wall-E. They all take me somewhere else.

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.

TC: What can you tell us about the concept of your Solo show premiere?
JM: For my solo show’s premiere, I’ve printed all 365 photos from my project in sizes varying from 4″x4″ to five feet long. The show is at a gorgeous 2,500 square foot venue in NoLiTa, 199 Mott St. We’re going to have mini potion vial cocktails, finger sandwiches, teacup rosé, and boozy cupcakes! There will also be live performances by opera singers and saxophonists as well as several DJs like celebrities AndrewAndrew playing all night!

TC: Does Alice in Wonderland inspire you?
JM: Obviously I am inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll creates a world that overlaps the real and the imaginary, much like I try to do.

TC: What propelled you to accomplish such an ambitious, year-long photographic expedition?
JM: My original impetus was to gain experience with something that would keep pushing me, but as I kept doing the project it became incredibly important to me that I keep creating the photos every day.

TC: How did you conquer dedicating 365 days to photographic surrealism?
JM: I adopted the project as a way of life, so even if I had to stay up until 4 or 5am to finish that day’s photo, I would. I had to make it one of if not my biggest priority.

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.

TC: To do what you’ve done would seem to require some sort of magical powers. Do you have any?
JM: Do I have any magical powers? …I am not allowed to share that information with you…

TC: What was your most memorable moment?
JM: There were so many memories from the challenge; I’d say one of my MOST memorable ones was going to Yosemite with a group of my friends back in January. We did twelve photo shoots in two days. It was freezing but so worth it, the valley was gorgeous.

TC: What was your biggest challenge?
JM: My biggest challenge was doing this project while also living the rest of my life. I would often have to juggle around plans or cancel them altogether to make sure I finished the photo for that day. Whenever I went on a trip somewhere, I was still taking photos for the project every day.

TC: What do you look for when selecting models for your work?
JM: When choosing models, I look for people who can act as hollow vessels so that anyone looking at the photo can put themselves into it. Imagine a Greek statue — I want the model to look perfect composed even when in the middle of chaos.

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.

TC: What lives in the depths of your subconscious?
JM: The depths of my subconscious are filled with my fears of growing up and forgetting my childhood. When I moved to New York two years ago, I grew up very fast, perhaps a little too fast. That’s what I try to cope with with my photography; I want to bring my childhood to life while also exploring what it means to be an adult.

TC: What’s it like to bring your dreams to reality?
JM: Bringing my dreams to life is amazing; you can really step into one of the photos since so much of the images are real-world elements. It’s always been my dream to bring my imagination into reality.

TC: What do you feel you’ve achieved most with your solo show?
JM: I think my solo show’s biggest accomplishment is bringing the entire project together. Not only are all 365 photos printed, but also many people who have modeled for, helped with, or followed the project are going to be in one room!

TC: What is your greatest aspiration as a photographer?
JM: My greatest aspiration as a photographer is to let others see how I look at the world. I use the lens of camera to let people see through my eyes.

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.

TC: Are you on top of the world right now, or could you go higher?
JM: I mean I definitely feel on top of the world right now, but there’s been so much preparation for the show these past few weeks that I haven’t really gotten a chance to let everything sink in yet! I could go higher.

TC: In three words, James Miille is…
JM: Daring to dream.

TC: If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?
JM: If I could have lunch with anyone, it would be my younger self. I would have so many stories to tell myself. I also wrote a letter to my 2013 self back in 2005 or so, and it would be amazing to meet up in person!

TC: Who would ideally play you in a film about your life?
JM: In a film about my life, I would OBVIOUSLY be played by Liam Hemsworth, with 9-year-old Macaulay Culkin visiting from the past to play my childhood self.

TC: Is NYC the greatest city on Earth for a young, emerging photographer like you?
JM: Although NYC is often a difficult place to live, it’s definitely been an amazing place to be as a photographer. I would never have any of the opportunities I’ve had if I weren’t here.

Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.
Photo by James Miille. Used with permission.

TC: Your spirit animal (if there is such a thing), would be a…
JM: My spirit animal would be an ibex. They can climb cliff walls that seem otherwise impossible to traverse.

TC: If your personality were a color, it would be…
JM: If my personality were a color, it would DEFINITELY be yellow!

TC: My Dear James, I’d say you’re one in a Miille-on, but we’re all mad here. TC mark

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