You might not know his name, but you’ll definitely know Mike Miller’s photography. This LA native has shot album artwork for the biggest name in West Coast rap during the late eighties and early nineties, the pictures on these pages are just the tip of the iceberg. Miller continues to work with rap’s GOATs. We caught up with the man responsible for our SS15 cover to discuss how he got started in the industry, his favourite shots and the artists he aspires to photograph in the future.
How did you get into photography?
I was travelling abroad and I ended up painting houses in Paris. I met a french boxer and ended up living in Paris for over a year, he’s like my big brother now. He gave me my first camera and there was a model apartment close by. I became friends with some of the models and I started shooting. With my images, I started a portfolio and I showed them to agent’s I met and they started hiring me to shoot their model’s portfolios.
That’s the dream for a photographer because models are hard to find.
You needed to know someone to get your foot in the door. Nowadays it’s like Instagram and social media have broadened the model look, which is really cool. I think it might help the modelling industry in general, just because there’ll be more normal girls, not just these anorexic looking girls. These [models] are not eating, it’s not healthy what they do to them.
You must have been in Paris during the peak era of the Supermodel, right?
Yeah, I photographed Linda Evangelista and Karen Mulder, she was in the first Victoria Secret angels group. Linda Evangelista’s probably one of the all time greats. Everybody knows her, at least in the industry. Any time I picked up a camera, I was able to get good images so my book grew. Then Cacharel, a perfume company in Paris liked my portfolio and they gave me my first campaign. That was my first big shoot and I shot it down in Barcelona with horses and bikinis, on the beach. It’s one of my favoUrite shoots and first big campaign.
It’s crazy you started in fashion because your shots of musicians are some of your most iconic. Did starting in fashion instead of music give you a different approach to photography?
Music was an important part of my life growing up and fashion photography I learned in Paris. Maybe that’s why I developed a style that transfers between fashion and music.
How did you make the move into shooting musicians?
After the first year, I built a portfolio in Europe, then moved back to Cali and I signed with Visage photo agency, which was owned by Herb Ritts. Los Angeles at the time had every record label, but the fashion here was very limited.
Who was the first musician you ever photographed?
My first [music] shoot was for Capitol Records for Roger Troutman, he was in a band called Zapp. If you guys don’t know about Zapp you should Google it. Then I shot The Go-Go’s, Stan Getz, Herb Alpert, famous jazz musicians, all of these were album covers.
Who was the first rap artist you photographed?
My agency knew I was a fan of rap so she hooked up Ice Cube for Spin Magazine. I remember I was very nervous and I had a line of homies wanting to be my assistant.
Have you ever been starstruck over a subject?
Tupac was definitely one. He was already at the height of his career and I was just trying to be real cool, like ‘wassup ‘Pac?’ but I was definitely sweating. That shoot was kinda crazy. I was with ‘Pac for 12 hours the first day we shot. He rode shotgun in my van and we had altercations in every spot we went to. He was cool and generous and would hand out money to people on the street, Then there’d be gangbangers coming out like, ‘waddup Pac?’ and we’d leave. In a few instances, it got a little gnarly.
Besides your Viper cover with Earl and Vince, which rappers have you photographed in the last year?
Boosie ,YG, Jeezy, ASAP Rocky, Drake, Rich Homie Quan and a bunch of girls for my book and campaigns. I’ve been having a lot of fun this past year.
Who out there would you like to shoot in the music world?
I wanna shoot Kanye or Future for sure. Also, Travi$ Scott.
You released your own book, West Coast Girls. What makes west coast girls worthy of an entire book dedicated to them?
There’s so many songs about West Coast girls and obviously there are a lot of beautiful women here but we – my wife made the book with me – wanted to show a variety of women that live in the west. We connected with cool artists, actresses, musicians, athletes etc.
Easy was really chill. He brought me into his studio, played me his album and we hung out waiting for Dr. Dre. The flag was out in the parking lot, it was pretty simple and straight forward. Another shoot I was in the parking lot of ruthless records and he pulled up and I was skating/waiting for him. Then he opened his trunk and pulled out a skateboard and that shot is one of my most popular photos.
I shot this of Cube in a studio west Hollywood I was shooting his west side connection album cover and took him aside for single shots. This is actually a polaroid negative. I always loved this pic, he does too I guess since I saw he blasted it on his Instagram.
This pic was in the studio as well, before the main cover concept. we did a bunch of shoots. Actually this is an outtake, this shot was never used. I like it a lot though. It’s film, 35mm, shot with a Nikon. it’s just natural light.
He brought out, around $120K, just stacking racks right there. I knew it was going to be dope with that playboy shirt on, I love that shot. It was really simple, there is some lighting, just to capture the detail. Again Boosie was super cool and easy to shoot, very cooperative.
Earl & Vince for Viper
I love this shot, it’s so cool. That cloud appears from the middle of nowhere, it’s actually a chem trail. It was the end of the day so it’s lit up pink, that’s not photoshop and I shot them with some colour gels. it’s over Downtown LA, on top of one of the buildings they’re fixing up on Broadway and sixth street. I had them hanging off the ledge. There’s some epic shots.
This is an extract of an article from the SS16 issue of Viper. Buy the SS16 issue of Viper Magazine with Novelist on the cover via BigCartel.