Leonard Miller began taking site photographs as a first year architecture student. A few years later (and now holding his Masters in architecture) he has developed into a photographer with a visual language all his own. Often photographing the ocean, mountains, people and spaces; Leonard captures the quiet beauty of everyday life. Here we talk to him about photography, architecture and how he is able to navigate so naturally between the two.
To start, please tell us a bit more about yourself and your background.
I grew up in suburban Pretoria, I went to Pretoria Boys High and played rugby and squash. I dropped art and took German instead, which was a prerequisite for my German inheritance from my German gran. After school I took a gap year, during which I travelled to England and became a professional waiter.
Would you say that you grew up in a creative environment?
My mother is an artist and my father an engineer. I only took a conscious interest in their fields after school. Of course I was subconsciously brainwashed by them all my life, there was always an undertone of creative thinking in our home, with art and design books on every bookshelf and artworks on almost every wall of the house.
What made you want to be an architect?
I wish I had a romantic answer for this one. I went to a career counselor when I was 17, where I spent an afternoon doing tests and answering difficult questions. At the end of the day the career counselor had my results and she told me I have two options – Priest or Architect. Seeing I wasn’t religious I chose the ‘Architect’ option.
How does it feel now that you’ve graduated with your Masters in architecture? What are your plans going forward?
Find a job, enter competitions, stay fresh and push for creativity in the industry, while I get my professional points so that I can be a real Architect.
Do you have any plans photography-wise? As I understand it started out as a creative outlet for you, but it seems to play a larger role now…
I love taking photos. There is something beautiful about capturing a moment that you know can never be recreated. Now that I’m done studying, I’ll hopefully have time for my photos; to explore new ideas and spaces.
As someone who does both, have you experienced any similarities between the practice of architecture and that of photography? Do you find that the two feed into, or affect, one another?
Both architecture and photography are spatial fields and are closely intertwined to composition and mood. Where the photograph captures a romantic moment in time, architecture has to predict that moment and allow for that moment to evolve into to something beautiful as time and people flow through it.
On a more practical level, my architecture and photography are in constant dialog with one another, my photos are constantly searching beauty in space and my architecture sees how it can interact with it and create a flowing sequence of experience within in the context it exists, not only on an aesthetic scale but on a human scale; where the architecture becomes alive in its own right, finding the poetry of its own existence between the overlapping of the built and natural worlds with all their complex relationships. Photography, has the power to capture this, as a machine with which to capture the most natural.
Has the process of taking photographs changed the way you look at things?
Yeah sure, it’s taught me that everything can be beautiful. Well that’s only half true. There are some seriously ugly buildings… Cape Town’s new portside skyscraper won’t even look good in an ironic photograph – I suppose DHK won’t hire me now.
How would you describe your style or visual aesthetic? Has this changed since you first began taking photographs?
I would like to describe my style as “romanticized documentary photography of the imagination.” I like to think that my style has progressed into this, from taking site photos as a 1st year architecture student.
Are there any themes that seem to occur or reoccur in your work?
Sea, mountains, spaces and people.
What are you influenced and inspired by?
Fyodor Dostoevsky (author), Larry David (comedian), and Paolo Sorrentino (director).
What are you currently looking at, listening to and reading?
I’m looking at David Hockney, listening to Dilemma by Nelly and Kelly, and reading The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann.
Do you have any other creative outlets, or ones that you’d like to explore in the future?
I’m always looking for new places to explore, but my latest creative outlet is tennis. Perhaps because it teaches me to make the most of spatial confines, which is a challenge in photography and architecture too. Everything can be creative.
A few of Leonard’s visualisations: