UNTO DUST: Photographing Strangers and Secret Beauty

22 Years of Ash Wednesday Street Portraits by Greg Miller
Thursday, February 6, 7:00pm
The BTS Center, 97 India Street, Portland, Maine

Every Ash Wednesday for the past 22 years, award-winning fine art photographer and Guggenheim Fellow Greg Miller has carried an enormous 8×10 film camera around New York City making street portraits of people who have cross-shaped smudges of ash on their foreheads.

On Thursday, February 6, he is coming to Portland, Maine, as a guest of The BTS Center and the Maine Council of Churches, to present a lecture and slideshow of his Ash Wednesday portraits—many of which have now been collected in the book Unto Dust published by L’Artiere Editions.  He will be available after the lecture to sign copies of the book.

Miller’s Ash Wednesday portraits reveal what mystic Thomas Merton once called “the secret beauty of strangers on the street,” and his subjects include an astonishing breadth of diversity: a police officer, children, elderly women, businessmen in Armani suits, a blind teenager, a nun, a mother and daughter clutching “Juicy Couture” shopping bags—all of them bearing the unmistakable mark of the ancient Christian ritual of penitence commemorating the first day of Lent, when clergy smudge ashes on believers’ foreheads and recite a scriptural reminder of their mortality: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

“Greg’s Ash Wednesday photographs have a quiet beauty and deep power.  He manages to capture in a single image both the unique individuality of the person being photographed and the universal human experience of mortality that person shares with all of us,” says Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director of the Maine Council of Churches.  “We are so honored to be co-hosting an event that gives the people of Maine the chance to experience this extraordinary artwork and meet the artist who created it.”

Miller, whose work has been exhibited in solo shows in Los Angeles, Barcelona and the Cheekwood Museum in Nashville, as well as group exhibits in New York City, including Yossi Milo, James Danziger and Sasha Wolf Galleries, is dedicated to working with the large 8×10 format camera, the serendipity of street photography and chance meetings with strangers to build insightful narrative photographs. 

Executive Director of The BTS Center, Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, is delighted his organization is hosting this event.  “What a unique opportunity this is, to welcome and engage with a visual artist of Greg’s caliber, whose images invite us to reflect on the power of ritual, to confront our own mortality, and to celebrate our shared humanity with everyone we encounter on the streets and sidewalks of our own neighborhoods.”

Miller’s photographs appear regularly in advertising and magazines including TIME, Esquire, The New York Times, LIFE and many others, and in February 2018, his book Unto Dust was featured on National Public Radio (“On Streets of New York, The Penitent Pause For A Portrait”).  Since 1999, Miller has been a faculty member at the International Center of Photography in New York. He conducts several workshops annually at Maine Media Workshops, Los Angeles Center of Photography and Project Basho.

The BTS Center, the organizational successor to the Bangor Theological Seminary, serves as a resource for communities of ministry and practice, equipping and supporting faith leaders for theologically grounded, effective 21st-century ministries in northern New England and beyond.  The Maine Council of Churches, founded in 1938, is a partnership of seven mainline Protestant denominations who represent 417 congregations with 55,000 members across the state.  The Council’s mission is to inspire congregations and persons of faith to unite in good works that build a culture of justice, compassion and peace.

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Rev. Jane Field, Executive Director, Maine Council of Churches, jfield@mainecouncilofchurches.org
 Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill, Executive Director, The BTS Center, allen@thebtscenter.org