My first exposure to Dutes Miller was a piece he’d done with fellow artist and frequent collaborator Stan Shellabarger. It was a tintype, one of the earliest forms of photography, featuring the two men sitting side by side in a doorway. They stare rather seriously into the lens, as people tended to do back then, and with their long, grizzled beards, they look decidedly historical—like gold-rush-era prospectors. At first glance, the photograph appears archival. But then you look closer and see that Miller’s hand is gently placed on Shellabarger’s thigh. It’s this anachronistic display of intimacy that clues you in to the fact that this photograph is a thoroughly modern creation. Miller and Shellabarger have been married for 18 years, and it would be difficult to overstate the poignancy of their collaborative work. Their tintype series, featuring the couple in various subtly affecting poses, mines the contradiction between the period technique and the contemporary subject, rooting the image of the homosexual union in history. They also work in highly symbolic performance art, once digging two graves connected by small tunnel through which the artists held hands.
And then there’s the small man diving out of the disconcertingly large asshole—otherwise known as my first exposure to Dutes Miller as an individual artist—which is not at all what I expected from one half of the collaboration that I loved at first sight.