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Peter Miller, whose photographs documented everyday Vermonters, dies at 89

A black and white photo of an older man in glasses, in front of a weathered barn, holding a framed photo of a person holding a framed photo in front of a weathered barn.
Peter Miller
One of photographer Peter Miller's most famous images is a portrait of dairy farmer and political candidate Fred Tuttle.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably seen Peter Miller’s work. His photographs are honest, intimate, black-and-white snapshots that document Vermont’s people and a way of life Miller saw was disappearing.

A black and white photograph of a man playing guitar on a porch, with a young boy sitting next to him.
Peter Miller
A photograph Miller took of actor, musician and dairy farmer George Woodard.

“He loved the farmers of Vermont and the people who he considered real Vermonters, and kind of lived life on their terms just like he did,” said Hilary Miller, one of his two daughters. “He loved talking to them, he loved listening to them, he loved getting to know them and their barns and their cows, and he just really had a connection with them.”

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The photographer and author died on April 17, at the age of 89.

Born in New York in 1934, Miller connected with photography and Vermont as a teenager. While attending the University of Toronto, he met the photographer Yousuf Karsh. In 1954, he worked as Karsh’s assistant, traveling around Europe to photograph famous figures like Albert Camus and Pablo Picasso. Then came a stint in the U.S. Army, where Miller lived in Paris and worked as a Signal Corps Photographer. He worked for Life magazine in the early 60s, then returned to Vermont.

Those who knew Miller say he was bright, articulate, and often frustrated — and at times disgusted — with the ways the world was changing. And he was compelled to document what was being lost: something about the farmers, their barns, the lines of a person's face or the palm of their hand.

A black and white portrait of an older man in a baseball cap with the word "Fun!" written on it.
Peter Miller
Miller made this photo of Carroll Shatney at the Orleans County Fair in Barton, Vermont.

“That Vermont that he liked or grew up in has changed a great deal,” said his sister-in-law Mary Miller. “He just became more concerned with the number of people from out of state moving in, the cost with taxes and all that's associated with a change. And I think in his mind, it was not a change for the better.”

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Miller self-published the coffee table book Vermont People in 1990, following more than a dozen rejections from publishers. He went on to sell more than 15,000 copies. He published more than a half dozen books after that, including A Lifetime of Vermont People in 2013.

Over his more-than-60-year career, Miller tried to present people as they are. That’s why he photographed in black and white, as he explained in a 2014 interview with Vermont Public:

“It's abstract. Goes right into ‘em. You don't look at the color and the color doesn't bounce back at you. You look right into the photograph, you can get a sense of the person.”

Listen to the 2014 Vermont Public interview with Peter Miller below:

Neal Charnoff speaks with Peter Miller in his Waterbury studio.

He would always sit and visit with the people he photographed, and he always used a tripod — that way, he would stand next to the camera, and continue to talk with his subjects.

Miller accrued numerous accolades over his long career; Patrick Leahy recognized him on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and he was named Vermonter of the Year by the Burlington Free Press.

But Miller's daughter says for her dad, the most important thing was always the work itself — the people, the photographs, and the stories they hold.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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