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'If you can light a cigarette...'


Photography and collage
Jonathan Miller Theatre director
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I started doing it entirely by accident. I mean, I have a long causal chain which led to it. I took up photography a long time ago, I think shortly after I went to New York.  An American photographer who had been friends of my mother gave me a camera and I began taking a lot of photographs in New York, but mostly of my newborn sons, and I became rather intrigued by it.  And then gradually I became more and more interested, not in scenery, I didn’t want to photograph, as it were, beautiful scenery or memorable places, I found myself photographing more and more abstract close-ups of real places from which, in fact, you couldn’t, as it were, deduce where they came from. I wasn’t interested in them as pieces of visitable beauty, I was interested in their abstract formats.

I found myself, when we lived in Scotland... I had a house in Scotland where we used to go for long holidays, and I kept my... I kept photographing the edges and sharp ends of gun emplacements, the way in which old 1930 bathing huts overlapped with one another and formed rectangular formats. I photographed bits and pieces of lighthouses, not in order to have exotically attractive pieces of visitable monuments but because I liked the way in which the cylindrical format of the lighthouse tower and then the various bits and pieces of chimney related to one another rather in a sort of geometrical fashion.  And I began doing lots and lots of those, and I kept albums and I kept on putting them away, and I have a vast album library upstairs of these photographs.

And I went on doing them, and I photographed bits and piece of decaying posters when I was working in Italy. I loved that sort of collage effect of posters which have been superimposed upon one another so that you got many, many layers and bits and pieces torn off and then other layers torn off and then painted over and so forth, and I would get very close to them and photograph them. And I put them together, finally, in a book called Nowhere in Particular, which fell stillborn from the press, no one talked about it at all.   But I think it’s rather a beautiful book.

Jonathan Miller (1934-2019) was a British theatre and opera director. Initially studying medicine at Cambridge, Sir Jonathan Miller came to prominence with the production of the British comedy revue, Beyond the Fringe. Following on from this success he embarked on a career in the theatre, directing a 1970 West End production of The Merchant of Venice starring Laurence Olivier. He also started directing opera, famously producing a modern, Mafia-themed version of Rigoletto.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: New York, Scotland, 1930s, Nowhere in Particular

Duration: 3 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: July 2008

Date story went live: 16 August 2011