Starting from homemade skateboarding and wakeboarding videos in his native Alabama, 20-something Miller Mobley, now living in New York, is making an impact with his stunning celebrity and portrait work.
By Mark Edward Harris, Photography By Miller Mobley
One of Miller Mobley's biggest clients is The Hollywood Reporter. He's constantly photographing A-list celebrities for editorial features. Above: Kevin Spacey.
You have to be brave to be a great people photographer. To go up to total strangers on the street or to come face to face with A-list celebrities in the studio with the goal of creating an intimate portrait is daunting. Yet, Brooklyn-based, Tuscaloosa, Alabama-born-and-raised Miller Mobley, still in his 20s, has managed to navigate the difficult roads to the top of the celebrity and portrait photography worlds in an impressively short time.
DPP: How did your interest in photography develop?
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Miller Mobley: When I was really young, I was into acting and directing. It had nothing to do with film or photography. It was about production. I always loved the behind-the-scenes aspect of creating something. I was doing backyard, little productions and putting on shows in the attic. My mom had bought me a video camera when I was 14 or 15, so that evolved into making little movies. That was the start.
DPP: What was the subject of your early productions?
Mobley: My brother and friends and I would go to the movies and get inspired, then come home and reenact a scene with my video camera. I would be the director. Also, my friends were into skateboarding and wakeboarding, and I would make their videos for them. I taught myself how to use some of the editing software, and I would add music to it. From there, the interest grew to the point where I wanted to move out to L.A. as a cinematographer to shoot feature films.
DPP: Did you apply to film school to learn the craft?
Mobley: I applied to USC, NYU and a few others. Every single school rejected me because I was a terrible student. I'm not very good at organized education—going to class, doing homework—so I ended up going to school in my backyard, the University of Alabama. They didn't have a film program. The next best thing was studio art where I could take the few photo classes they offered, as well as classes in sculpture, painting and graphic design. The photography classes had us shooting black-and-white film. I learned a lot by printing my own photographs. With black-and-white, you can't achieve a great sense of depth unless you get the contrast right, and you get black elements on top of a white, or vice versa, to give a sense of space.
DPP: When you print in a traditional darkroom, you really feel the ƒ-stops and know what a good exposure looks like. This is something that photographers who have known only the digital world often struggle with. They tend not to "feel" the exposures and truly understand ISOs and ƒ-stops. Why did you start focusing on still photography and, in particular, on portraiture?