He’s shot hundreds of thousands of images of the most beautiful adult stars in the world and was Penthouse magazine’s go-to photographer in the magazine’s glory days. But what many people may not know about legendary lensman Earl Miller is that he was also a struggling actor, shot ads for Bugle Boy and Cavaricci and was the staff shooter for Sonny & Cher in the pop duo’s heyday.
Miller will celebrate his 40th anniversary in the industry in 2012 (he likes to refer to it as “creating erotic art”) that will kick off this fall with his episodic web series “Earl Miller’s Pictures at an Exxxhibition” as a way to reignite the artist in him that started with erotic inspiration from giants D.H Lawrence, Henry Miller and Stanley Kubrick.
I poured through books and taught myself how to shoot, using available light and then strobes, validating my belief that all education is self education whether at a school or not.
“I’ve got a great crew, topnotch talent, original music, new equipment and an exciting concept to work with. There will be celebrations surrounding the launch of this project and I hope to have both new folks and industry vets come out to celebrate this new chapter with me,” he says.
In addition to his series, Penthouse Australia will run a special Earl Miller column in which the photographer will chronicle the key moments of his career. And there are plenty.
In 1968 struggling actor Miller bought himself a Pentax 35 mm camera and immediately began making money shooting other actors’ headshots and portfolios. He said his connection to the camera was “primal.”
“I poured through books and taught myself how to shoot, using available light and then strobes, validating my belief that all education is self education whether at a school or not. Soon I was shooting major national ad campaigns for fashion clients and album covers for major record companies.”
Only a year later, Miller found himself on the “Sonny & Cher” TV show as its official photographer for the three-and-a-half years it ran on CBS, a stint he describes as a wonderful experience that gave him the opportunity to shoot nearly every major musical, comedic and dramatic star of the day.
“Cher was kind enough to let me keep my camera gear in her dressing room during breaks, and she proved to be a very real down-to-earth and considerate person. I have a complete photographic library of color chromes and black-and-white negatives from that classic era of television history. It fills four drawers of a file cabinet and I still get calls now and then for licensing,” he says.
But Miller’s signature success and his hallmark in adult are his glory days at Penthouse magazine with publisher Bob Guccione.
He recalls how in 1972 after seeing his first copy of Penthouse he hurried to get a girl-girl layout into the hands of Guccione. The set wasn’t accepted, but Miller established a rapport with the late Penthouse king whom he refers to as a “genius.”
It took two years, but in 1974 Miller had his first set published in the June edition of the magazine. “Debra Clearbranch was my first published work. She was an exotic beauty who was part Native American. Although she was totally inexperienced as a model, she was a gifted exhibitionist and with her I discovered how important it was to establish a safe space for a model to freely express herself,” Miller says.
His observation paid off. Over the years the shooter honed his work to a fine art capturing first-time layouts of adult stars Briana Banks, Jessica Drake and Monique Alexander, among others. He also shot Drake’s and Banks’ first boy/girl magazine spreads.
But what cemented Miller’s Penthouse role was his delivery of what he calls “unique, one-of-a-kind and first-of-a-kind layouts.”
“Bob Guccione freed me both creatively and from pesky budget limitations turning me loose to explore my deepest sexual fantasies. I became Penthouse’s most published photographer and a key part of establishing its cutting-edge reputation during the years of explosive circulation growth. But more importantly, I became an artist,” he recounts.
And Guccione apparently agreed. Miller quotes what the publisher once wrote about him; “For over 20 years I have worked with most of the world’s best-known photographers of women. I have watched them grow and develop and despite any personal celebrity, success or professional stature they may have achieved, only a rare few have made that magical transition from photographer to artist. Earl Miller is one of them.”
His Penthouse career continued to blossom as Guccione entrusted him with scandalous celebrity shoots the likes of President Bill Clinton’s paramours Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones. Miller said Flowers had a wicked sense of humor. “While I was shooting her she told me, “Clinton had a little dick, he was a lousy fuck, but he gave great head.”
The dream continued as Miller snagged photography assignments that took him to a 12th century Italian castle for five weeks for German Penthouse, and to South Africa where he shot the local Penthouse Pet of the Year.
By 1992 Miller flexed his independent, artistic muscle and produced and directed “The Great Pet Hunt - Part I” video for U.S. and Canadian gentlemen’s clubs that starred Robin Brown, Jenna Persaud, Vanna Lace and Sara Norton. He says the low-budget stripper video spent five weeks in Billboard’s top 10, bestselling videos alongside “Silence of the Lambs” and “Wayne’s World.”
Guccione then called on Miller again, this time to shoot Penthouse Video’s “Earl Miller’s Girls of Europe” in 1995 where he had to choose only six girls from a field of 120 Czech beauties. The production featured sensual modern nudes shot in historical Prague’s public areas. Nice work if you can get it.
Fast forward to the year 2000 when Miller’s artistic expression hit a high note. Inspired by the orgy scene in Kubrick’s film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” Miller captured adult superstar Tera Patrick in an elaborate hardcore layout titled “Eyes Wide Open” in two parts in the September and October issues — a layout still talked about today by Penthouse fans and considered one of Miller’s signature works.
Aside from his raw talent and vision, what kept Miller in the game for four decades in an ever-changing and volatile industry, is a combination of the right stuff and adaptability. Especially when it involves what has become adult’s strong suit — technology.
Although he admits he was slow on grasping the power of the Internet in the early days, and more recently the advent of all things mobile, Miller says he appreciates the flexibility offered to him by the web as demonstrated by the launch of his new episodic “Pictures at an Exxxhibition” fantasy experience for members of his website, www.EarlMiller.com.
But Miller really considers himself a content provider at heart who’s now embracing technology and social media in an effort to keep competitive.
And he’s doing a good job. His website’s been active since 1998 and boasts more than 100,000 images and 1000 videos of original content that are updated six days a week. He even has his own affiliate program — www.EarlMillerCash.com.
A bit reluctant about technology being a panacea, Miller instead thinks that technology is “a new frontier” and points to the creation of content as the evergreen core of adult success.
“Creative erotic expression for me has always been about fantasy and that’s the same frontier as always. A solo-girl shoot can rise to the level of fantasy if you can discover her special magic through photography. Classic beauty and the sweet mystery of the feminine mystique will never go out of style,” he notes.
He’s also planning on experimenting with 3D, but doesn’t know what “all the fuss is about. He quips, “I guess that makes it a sure thing.”
One sure thing is how much Miller and a host of his contemporaries have laid the foundation for much of what is still being produced today — only in different and more tech savvy formats.
Commenting on some colleagues he admired over the years, Miller says, “I particularly like the sensitive way Steve Hicks portrays women. He’s doing wonderful things with very natural looks and his settings don’t distract from the beauty of his subjects. Ken Marcus has taken fetish photography to a higher level of artistry. His artful use of light is the signature of his every shot as it highlights the expressions and experiences of each performer.”
And of course, Porn Valley’s grand dame of photography Suze Randall holds a special place. Miller says, “Suze Randall has created a wonderfully stylish approach to portraying sex. The fantastical colors and super fashionable sets and wardrobe make every set an event to behold.”
“Together we have all achieved career longevity in the rapidly changing world of sexual expression by maintaining a high level of quality since the time when photography was a much more technologically challenging experience than it is today,” Miller reflects about his contemporaries.
Despite the tech challenges, Miller is grateful for how the Internet has opened up adult to millions. “It is breathtaking to look back at the early grip censorship had and then see the explosion of sexual expression that exists today. Adult has benefited from this openness and has advanced it as well,” Miller says. But he cautions that as always with expanding freedom of sexual expression, there is the inevitable pushback.
“I hope there will be more support for free sexual expression in the United States and less prosecutions as time goes on instead of a backslide into a repressive past,” the photographer notes.
A welcome wish from an adult pro who’s seen it all — and captured some of the industry’s most compelling figures that regardless of legislation or moral sentiment will be considered art for decades to come.