This series of photographic portraits by Sandro Miller explores concepts of mimesis and iconicity through the restaging of some of the most memorable photographs of the 20th century, using, also, the interpretive abilities of one of the great actors of our time, John Malkovich.

Longtime friends and collaborators, Sandro Miller and John Malkovich first met in the late 1990s on a project for Chicagoʼs famed Steppenwolf Theater Company. In 2013, Miller proposed to Malkovich the concept of revisualizing forty-one images by legendary masters of photographic portraiture such as Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Yousuf Karsh, Dorothea Lange, and Andy Warhol.

As Malkovich commented once, “I come from a family of journalists and I had always heard the camera doesn’t lie. I looked at this as a chance to explore that.”

Prior to initiating the project, Miller spent a year intensively researching the original production of each iconic photograph. In addition to studying the lighting, setting, and dress, Miller interviewed the master photographers themselves, whenever possible. Once thoroughly prepared, Miller and Malkovich sequestered themselves in a studio with a skilled team of a set builder, a lighting designer, and a makeup artist. With individual sets pre-lit and staged, Malkovich studied the original image for each upcoming photograph while in makeup. Then, under the direction of Miller, Malkovich morphed from male to female, child to adult, each time assuming—with eerie exactitude—the personas of Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, Mick Jagger, Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl mother, Richard Avedon’s beekeeper and Diane Arbusʼs famous twins.

Just as Malkovich assumed the character and attitude of each portrait subject, Miller, in parallel fashion, adopted the style and approach of each photographic artist. Subsequent to the taking of all forty-one photographs, Miller also researched the papers and printing methods of each photographer to make final prints that matched the originals as closely as possible in size, finish, and tonal quality. With the exception of some minor retouching to add back the graininess of some of the original early 20th century images, all the photographs were staged in the studio, created in the camera, and brought to life without the assistance of digital technology.


Editors’ Note: The full project, titled “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters,” is traveling to multiple venues across Europe. Millerʼs latest book The Malkovich Sessions, was released in April 2016 by Glitterati Press.

Exhibition and Book Signing in New York City
May 12 – July 1, 2016
Yancey Richardson Gallery