Steven Miller has been producing beautiful and brave photographic work for 20 years, exploring themes like queer resistance and resilience, the sublime, and hot gay sex.
His series, Subsumed, borrows from all of those interests, as it centers on naked figures suspended in underwater scenes. The photos capture the sublimity of skinny dipping in the classical sense: The beauty of bodies both aquatic and human, the terror of the unknown waters, and the childlike curiosity driving us forward despite our fears.
In our conversation, Miller dives deep into his relationship with the world beneath, and the “tiny queer bubble” through which he views the world.
The images from your Subsumed series are so ethereal, so otherworldly, how did you come to create this beautiful body of work?
I only discovered prescription goggles existed last year, and they’ve allowed me to see clearly underwater for the first time since childhood. It was a revelation! I’ve been swimming with my friend Douglas for years, but for the first time I saw his form and the way light reflected and refracted around him. I knew I had to document him and others, so I rented underwater camera equipment.
Nudity feels totally essential to these portraits, what are you aiming to express with that creative decision?
Swimwear immediately dates the photographs, and I like to make images that exist out of time and place. Also, if I'm honest, I really love nude bodies in all their forms.
It shows, there’s such a celebratory tone, it’s all so affirming.
I’m glad that comes through! It was great to capture their exuberance under water.
I'm really drawn to certain details in these images—body positions, bubbles, sun rays, the addition of flowers. How much creative control do you impose over your final results, versus just going with the "flow"?
I directed folks for a large part, and a handful of swimmers had their own agenda that I was happy to document. Once a spot is picked with the sun in the right place, that flow state comes, and it feels like a collaboration every time. Greta brings flowers every time she comes, so it seemed obvious to make that a part of her image.
How lovely. Did any other images get customized to the subject?
My friend Griff wanted to appear as the hanged man, and local artist Douglas Ridings worked with me five or six times to make images at the bottom of the lake.
I see you as always pushing your art forward, always cutting edge. Whether you're playing bass in the revolutionary post-industrial/punk band ¡Tchkung!, photographing yourself marrying a giant turd, dumping milk on your friends, or burning porn... what’s the common thread for you?
I love archetypal figures doing ambiguous things. If there's a sense of absurdity or impossibility to the image, even better. For decades trickster stories were some of my favorites to tell, and the last four years I've been working my way through the elements. I'm drawn to the mythical, and I love centering queerness in unexpected places. Every time the camera comes out, I think of it as a tiny queer bubble where anything can happen.
You’re a tiny queer bubble.
I say make your own queer utopia. In this completely fucked up world we live in, happiness feels like a radical act. I spent years being depressed and feeling out of place. Making art gave me a voice that let me find my people. Those friends are my lifeline on this planet, and most of them are in my photographs over the last 20 years. Every queer person that finds my art online and writes me a letter—it feels like I’m doing my part to spread the word: you matter, you belong. Let’s make our short time here shine as bright as we can.