Behind the Image
Zoriah Miller '97 has been thrown out of more countries than most people have visited.But that doesn’t stop him from documenting disasters, wars, and humanitarian crises around the globe as an independent photojournalist.
He covered the major 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and Kashmir, has spent time embedded with U.S. troops and shooting independently in Iraq and Afghanistan, living with families in Palestine and the Gaza Strip, and documenting famine in Kenya. His work has been featured worldwide in galleries, museums and publications, including Newsweek, The New York Times, BBC News, The United Nations, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, Democracy Now and many others.
His experience and worldwide publication of his photos, as well as his war zone experience, helped him become embedded with both the Marines and the Army in Iraq in 2005 and again in 2007. But in June 2008, he ran afoul of the Pentagon and was banned from all Marine-controlled areas after he posted photos of soldiers killed in a suicide attack on his Web site, challenging the restrictions that had been increasingly placed on photojournalists in the area.
Although he was not expressly banned from Iraq, no other military unit would accept him. The New York Times featured his story, which illustrates the continuing conflict between military officials’ concerns for security with the journalist’s goal to document history. Miller tries to show the sacrifices of war; although he’s been called anti-American, many soldiers understand he is trying to show their struggles and the commitment they’re making.
Miller didn’t intend to become a photojournalist. In 1998, he was running a techno record store in the New York City’s East Village, and looking for a meaningful way to help people in need. Changing careers didn’t daunt him. “Evergreen taught me how to do things on my own,” he says. He started working with the American Red Cross as a disaster technology specialist. But during a Manhattan blackout in 2003, he became frustrated when layers of bureaucracy kept him from quickly handing out truckloads of food to people who needed it. He didn’t feel he could make a difference through traditional disaster relief.
Around this time, he saw the Oliver Stone film Salvador, starring James Woods as photojournalist Richard Boyle, who chronicled El Salvador’s civil war. “It showed a guy taking photos in a humanitarian crisis,” Miller recalls. “He was on his own getting the word out.” So Miller bought a used camera and a plane ticket to Asia, and started shooting.
He began working with an agency but found most of the projects they proposed were commercial or business shoots. He took an assignment in India but couldn’t do the human interest stories he wanted to, so he decided to strike out on his own. “News has become an entertainment industry and it shouldn’t be,” he says. When he was assigned stories about Gaza, for example, he saw that the stories he was asked to photograph were not the stories he was seeing on the ground.
Miller is determined to document what he sees, and encourages other independent journalists to do the same. Sometimes that fits in with commercial media; most of the time, it doesn’t. “What does news mean these days?” he asks. “I’m glad to be part of that debate.” According to Miller, the mainstream media is not documenting how things are really happening. So he’s working to create outlets for himself and other journalists, beginning with his own site, and his blog which features his work and that of other independent photojournalists worldwide. “What I see happening is that we need to create our own outlet for news,” he says. “The Internet’s potential is only beginning to be realized.”