Sandro Miller: I am Papua New Guinea
The Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago recently opened the second solo exhibition of photographer Sandro Miller with his newest project, I Am Papua New Guinea running through November 9, 2019. On October 29th, the gallery will host a discussion between Sandro Miller and anthropologist Mark Golitko, Ph.D. about their experiences in Papua New Guinea.
After exploring these wonderful portraits, I wondered, where exactly is Papua New Guinea? It’s a country in Oceania that occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and its offshore islands are in Melanesia, a region of the southwestern Pacific Ocean north of Australia. Needless to say, not an easy place to access. Papua New Guinea is a country rich in cultural diversity, known for its exquisite beaches, rainforests and active volcanoes. While it has a population of more than 8 million people, and 851 known languages, only a small percent live in urban centers. The rest of its people live in customary communities, areas owned by indigenous groups who manage their land and people through tribal customs. Sandro traveled to many of these communities with the help of Torsten Blackwood, one of Australia’s leading photojournalists, who graciously offered to introduce him to the numerous tribes he’s photographed throughout his career.
Sandro made three trips to Papua New Guinea over a two-year period, photographing 400 indigenous people from more than a hundred different tribes, including the Geremiaka mudmen near Asaro, the Huli wigmen of Tari and in the Yenchan village tambaran (spirit house) by the Sepik River. Headdresses, face painting, tribal dress and ornamental talismans take center stage during the annual Sing-Sing festival, peaceful gatherings where tribes share their traditions through song, dress and dance. At the crocodile festival in the Sepik basin, tribes celebrate the special bond they have with the crocodile, which symbolizes power and manhood, by enduring skin-cutting initiations that resemble the back of the reptile. At these festivals, Sandro set up a studio, inviting hundreds of people to have their portraits taken. For most of the sitters, it was the first time they had ever seen a photograph or what they looked like. The result is a powerful body of work of a thriving culture far removed from its industrialized neighbors.
For more than 35 years, Sandro Miller has run a successful photo / film studio in Chicago. With clients ranging from Forbes, GQ and Esquire, to American Express, Coca-Cola, Jimmy Dean and BMW, Sandro has secured his place as one of the top advertising photographers worldwide. His fine art work has been shown throughout the world and is in numerous collections including the Museum of Contemporary Photography (Chicago, IL) and the Elton John Collection. He is the recipient of dozens of awards, including the International Photographer of the Year for his achievements in photography from the Lucie Foundation in 2014 and again in 2015. A monograph, I Am Papua New Guinea, is scheduled for publication later this year and will be his tenth book showcasing his personal projects.
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