John Miller's Black & White Photos

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Photography of John Russell Miller from albums in the possession of his daughter Pat Miller.

In the 1930's John Russell Miller, known as Jack in his youth, bought a Brownie Camera and took snapshots in Black & White. He filled a photo album with these small images, mainly contact prints, of people and places, with more than a few of himself taken by others, in an effort to document different events in his life, such as Jack on his motorcycle, Jack with his first girlfriend, Jack's handstands, first jobs, University life. It's a fun little album.

In the 1950's, Jack was now John Miller, meteorologist, married man with a young daughter. He bought a 35mm camera, light meter, tripod, books on how to take better pictures and how to print pictures. Then he built a darkroom and printed his own Black and White photos, in an effort to document different events in his life, such as, my daughter, my wife, the places we visited, the people we know.

John Miller and daughter Pat

Here, in 1955, John put the camera on a tripod to photograph himself with his daughter Pat. The exposure was taken using a timer and was a slow enough shutter setting indoors that Pat's expressive hands became a blur.

As John Miller's only child, I decided to collect some of his Black and White Photos in this Free Space Profile. Although he was only a hobbyist, I think some of his pictures are an interesting reflection on the time period from a middle class perspective.


Camera Inspection

CAMERA INSPECTION. The camera was set on a tripod for a family photo of John, Evelyn and Pat on New Year's Day 1954. That was the plan. The timer made a ticking sound before the shutter released. In the first photo Pat was in her seat, not looking at the camera so John set the timer for a second photo. Pat bolted from her chair to investigate and the shutter released. This is the family portrait.

Losing my ice cream

LOSING MY ICE CREAM. When we were young girls in 1954 some of us wore dresses decorated with smocking and some of us carried a favorite stuffed toy everywhere. This is the moment before the ice cream on the cone landed with a splat on the pavement and the crying began.

Pat and T-Rex

PAT AND T-REX. We entered a vast, cavern-like room with dark shadows and light filtering in from above. In the center of this vast great hall stood a skeleton that was as large as our house. I ran towards it, my shoes clattering on the floor, the sound reverberating around the hushed murmuring in the room. People stopped staring at the contents of glass cases and turned to watch me. Runaway child. Outrageous behavior in a museum. Where are her parents? My embarrassed parents caught up with me. This was my introduction to dinosaurs in New York's Natural History Museum. John later said his image of his child beside the head of a T-Rex was aided by the fact that she was transfixed and did not move for a while. Image from 1958 in New York City.

Evelyn & Pat

EVELYN & PAT. Evelyn and Pat in 1953. John would go for the moment. If the expression was right he took the picture even if it wasn't perfectly framed or perfectly focused. Framing was the issue here but that expression on Evelyn's face would have been gone in an instant.

Boys playing ball

BOYS PLAYING BALL. First we lived in various apartments in the city. John took this image in 1953 by looking out our apartment window. The boys in the street below had shot their ball up three floors over their heads. Later we moved to one of the suburbs that were popping up around the city. In the suburbs the kids still played ball in the street even though there were parks nearby. Balls bounce better on asphalt.

Stuck sled

STUCK SLED. During a snowstorm in parts of the world that are used to them, life goes on. Trucks make deliveries, people put out their garbage cans for collection and children play outside in the storm. John was outside with his camera when the sled got stuck in the snow. Later it was the cars that were stuck in the snow.

Top of Whiteface

TOP OF WHITEFACE. John and Evelyn liked to get in the car and visit places. Neither of them had many living family members and their friends lived near where they lived, therefore the trips were to "points of interest." When their daughter was young, points of interest were no greater than 400 miles from home. Later points-of-interest trips could be 3,000 miles from home. On a day trip to the top of Whiteface Mountain in New York (4,872 feet read the sign), Evelyn and Pat dressed for the occasion. There was wind that day because Evelyn's hair was blowing.

The horse, the car, the snowbank

THE HORSE, THE CAR, THE SNOWBANK. The car was a 1949 Meteor. John was taking Evelyn, Pat and Evelyn's father for a scenic tour of rural Quebec in the winter of 1954. During that time period horse and buggies were still used occasionally. Pat left the car to climb the snowbank.

Easter Blues

EASTER. I wanted to go outside and for some reason was not permitted. Perhaps my parents were going to church and a baby sitter had arrived. I was given a bunny and dressed for Easter but not allowed to go anywhere. When I was older I attended Sunday School in the church basement. I wasn't allowed into the main upstairs service until my parents were confident I wouldn't misbehave. This was one of my favorite photos my father took.

Supermarket Obedience

SUPERMARKET OBEDIENCE. Sit and wait for Mommy to finish shopping. Notice how the supermarket has placed the chair beside the row of bunnies in hope of encouraging a child to pester a parent. John was told to stay with Pat and he pulled out his camera to record a bored child being obedient.

Window Shopping

WINDOW SHOPPING. This was a fabric store named Harrison. I am at left, wearing a skort (a skirt with boomers), then there's my mother and two girls that lived on our street. We are fascinated by the selection of material. The photo is from 1960.

Pussy Willow Bouquet

PUSSY WILLOW BOUQUET. In the spring of 1954 we took a drive into rural Quebec looking for roadside pussy willows. The branches of the willows had silvery velvet-like catkins which appeared before leaves developed. Evelyn wanted to make a bouquet as a centerpiece for the dining room table. John took several pictures of Evelyn and Pat rummaging in a thicket of willows, none of which were as interesting as Evelyn's beaming face when she got her bouquet.

Reading while waiting

READING WHILE WAITING. John photographed Pat and two friends, Jackie and Poppy, reading as they waited to leave for a movie theater that was showing the Disney film "Pinocchio". Since the film came out in 1940 this was a special showing for a new group of youngsters. Beside the sofa was the 1930s radio. Jackie is clearly reading a book on airplanes. Pat remembers nothing of the movie except the song "When you wish upon a star."

Westmount Library Children's Wing

WESTMOUNT LIBRARY CHILDREN'S WING. This library was a place of adventure as it not only had great books but was located in a park with a playground, trails, a stream with a foot bridge, fountains, a greenhouse with floral displays and a great lawn for flying kites.

Family Group at Scituate

FAMILY GROUP AT SCITUATE. Evelyn was an only child but John had a sister Catherine who had married Bob Best and lived in Scituate, Massachusetts, south of Boston, along the coast. We visited regularly during the 1950s. Here John was trying to put together all the moving kids with their mothers Catherine and Evelyn sitting quietly and it worked. Left to right cousin David, cousin Steve, cousin Doug, Pat, cousin Joe.

Thanksgiving Dinner in the Bob Best home

THANKSIVING DINNER IN THE BOB BEST HOME. John tried a shot over the boys' heads of the turkey, Bob Best and Evelyn. You can even see the fish bowl in the background.

Bob Best's sons, Steve and Doug on the beach

BOB BEST'S SONS, STEVE AND DOUG ON THE BEACH. We usually visited Catherine and Bob Best in the summer, which featured a lot of time to enjoy the beach. Taken in 1955, this was an amusing shot of Steve and Doug Best. Although I was too young to remember the incident, I can imagine Steve saying: nananananana; you're stuck up there.

At Scituate

AT SCITUATE. This was the first visit to Scituate for Pat in 1952. There are no memories of this visit but as the time spent in Scituate throughout the 1950s increased, lasting memories emerged.

I could smell the place before I saw it. I hung my head out the car window as we drove past houses with green lawns and a wonderful briny scent filled the air. Soon we turned onto the road beside the ocean and we were almost at our destination, a wooden greyish brown house with a porch. The house faced the Atlantic Ocean. Early mornings were lost in a mysterious world where the distance was blank until I arrived and found pastel painted cottages with giant name tags like 'Sea You Later' and 'Moby Dicky'. A fog horn droned in the background.

When the mist lifted the cottages were drenched in a light so bright it hurt my eyes. A dog curled up in the shade of lobster pots stacked beside the house. I headed down the porch steps in my bare feet, something I could never do at home. The yard was sandy and easy to walk on but the asphalt street was brutal. I hopped across crying "ouch-ouch." The mighty wall that protected the cottages was useful for a bird's eye view of the crashing waves.

On the Beach at Scituate

ON THE BEACH AT SCITUATE. The beach was backed by the wall and a line of cottage houses. John had to stand back in the waves for a photo of Pat splashing.

Splashdown Ride 1957

SPLASHDOWN RIDE. We went to an Amusement Park in the Boston area. I have a happy memory of the sensation of roaring down into the water. You can barely see my Aunt Catherine in the car. I was sitting beside her.

Time to Relax

TIME TO RELAX. One of Evelyn's expressions was: 'I just want to relax'. Here she is relaxing with the newspaper and a cup of tea, and is totally unaware that John is sneaking a picture. It's dark, moody, with Evelyn's legs dominating the image, so unlike her public persona. The fact that the tea cup is luminous is also interesting as Evelyn loved her tea in a bone china cup.

Pat's Toys

PAT'S TOYS. John set some of Pat's favorite toys on a table for a photo. I remember the panda and the piano (it was red) well and even the little sombrero. The other toy is a mystery. It must have been one of those love-it-for-a-week toys that then went to the bottom of the pile but the parent saw you with it everyday and assumed favorite status. Never mind. I always loved this picture.

Decorating the Tree

DECORATING THE TREE. Pat was finally old enough to stand on a chair to help decorate the real evergreen tree. There is a picture of me carefully attaching a glass ball to a branch but it's not as good as the image capturing my joy at accomplishing the task.

Ice Follies at Forum 1954

ICE FOLLIES AT THE FORUM 1954. When the Ice Shows, the Ice Capades and Ice Follies, came to Montreal John, Evelyn and Pat attended and loved the experience of seeing synchronized skating and sometimes Olympic stars perform. The Forum was the home of the famous hockey team, The Montreal Canadians. The Forum felt cavernous and sound echoed at times. John's photo gave a sense of the place.

Pat Learns to Drive

PAT LEARNS TO DRIVE. I was so curious about this car that took us places John placed me in the driver's seat of the 1949 Meteor for a photo. When I was a bit older and we were on long drives at night on rural roads, the car headlights were the only source of light. John pretended there was a mysterious red light on the dashboard that he could predict when it would appear and disappear. I watched and waited, fascinated that he could always predict correctly. I remembered this and when I was an adult I asked. He laughed: "The red light indicated high beams. When a car approached I had to switch back to regular headlights so I wouldn't blind the other driver."

1953 Chevrolet Corvette

1953 CHEVROLET CORVETTE. John loved cars. When he could, he attended car shows where the season's new models were trotted out for inspection, and photographed cars that weren't practical for families but appealed to his inner emotions. This was a car show at the newly opened Show Mart (1952) in downtown Montreal. The Chevrolet Corvette pictured here was the car of John's dreams. Notice all the men with hats in the background milling around, dreaming.

Dorval Airport at Montreal in 1952

DORVAL AIRPORT AT MONTREAL IN 1952. John worked on the upper level of the terminal at Dorval Airport as a meteorologist. Using large maps and radar data he plotted the weather patterns, then briefed the pilots before they took off. The airport opened in 1941 and was located 12 miles (20 km) from the center of Montreal. A new terminal was built in 1960, then the airport expanded 2000-2007. It is now known as Trudeau International Airport, named after the former Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. The amusing part of this story was it was the late PM Trudeau's plan to close this airport. He favored Mirabel, located 24 miles (39 km) from the center of Montreal. They closed Mirabel in 2004.

Colonial Airlines 1952

COLONIAL AIRLINES 1952. Colonial Airlines was a United States Airline company ( 1942-1956) with a base at LaGuardia Airport in New York. It merged with Eastern Air Lines in 1956. John took this photo at work, probably from his office window.

Rue Ste Catherine

RUE STE CATHERINE. In 1953 Montreal still had street cars on the city's main street, St. Catherine. A few years later they replaced them with buses. I had no memory of ever being on a street car until I got a surprise when stepping aboard an old Montreal street car in the Railway Museum. Suddenly my mind was flooded with images of standing with my little hand held high to reach mother's hand. I recognized everything about the car and could hear the noises it made. In John's image you see the street cars in the background but also the bustling aspect of the city, with people and cars interrupting the view. Montreal was a busy place.

Daddy Buys A Tricycle

DADDY BUYS A TRICYCLE. Older neighbourhood girls had taught me how to ride their tricycles but this was the moment when a new tricycle for me was revealed. John unloaded the bike from the car and waited with his camera for me to appear. I was playing nearby and ran when I saw it.

Frances at age 75, still driving, preparing a picnic

FRANCES AT AGE 75, STILL DRIVING, PREPARING A PICNIC. John's Aunt Frances, a spinster school teacher, had provided a home for John and his sister Catherine when their mother Florence, the sister of Frances, had died. Their father died two years later. Frances was a like a third parent. John was always trying to get a good picture of his beloved Aunt. This one was special as Frances loved picnics and she was still driving at age 75, having bought her first car in 1929 at nearly 50 years old.

Roadside Picnic 1960

ROADSIDE PICNIC 1960. Frances loved picnics and encouraged John to love picnics who encouraged Pat to love picnics. If there was no table beside the road or in a clearing, a blanket was spread on the ground. There were picnics all through the 1950's and the photo albums are filled with pictures of lunch outdoors. This photo, taken around 1960 shows the car and the scenery which was the point of the picnic: inexpensive lunch in a pretty setting.

Picnic at Beaver Lake

PICNIC AT BEAVER LAKE. On this occasion, despite the rip in the tablecloth, this was a more formal picnic. Aunt Frances was visiting and Evelyn wanted to impress John's kin. Note the china, silverware and serviettes. The location was Beaver Lake, an artificial lake constructed on Montreal's Mount Royal, the small mountain overlooking the city, known as well for its giant cross on the summit. I loved Beaver Lake as a child. There were vast lawns, climbing rocks to explore and the ducks enjoyed the four-leaf-clover shaped lake. The area was surrounded by forest and you weren't aware of being so close to such a large city.

Pop Brown's Coffee Shop and Esso Filling Station, Swanton, Vermont

POP BROWN'S COFFEE SHOP AND ESSO FILLING STATION, SWANTON, VERMONT. Often when we were traveling to nearby Provinces or States we would stop for gas, a soda drink, to use washrooms, or if we tired of the picnic lunch, we'd find a meal at a diner or coffee shop. That John placed this photo in his album shows we got Esso gas and enjoyed their coffee shop. I loved the penny candy in glass jars and the cooler with rows of glass bottles that they had in the small towns. You could always identify the drink by its bottle cap which served as a label.

Candy and Party Hats 1956

BIRTHDAY PARTIES. If you had three friends, that was four parties a year. The cake. The candles. The candy. Paper hats and party dresses. The gifts were usually what your parents decided you should give. Birthday parties were fun. This was the first birthday party for Pat.

Six on a Sofa

SIX ON A SOFA. How many girls in party dresses can you squeeze on a sofa? This was a birthday party and there are photos of us wearing silly hats and eating cake but this was my favorite of John's photo shoot. You can imagine some of the personalities by how we are sitting. John was in charge of games. Evelyn was in charge of food. Gifts were not so important. We loved everyone's birthday parties because of the food and games. Left to right: France, Patsy (Pat), Louise, Janet, Heather and Margaret.

First Halloween Costume 1956

FIRST HALLOWEEN COSTUME 1956. This store-bought witch costume was black and orange and I was allowed to chose it. I didn't know much about witches but loved the hat. When posing for John I made a "grrr" face, thinking that's what witches might do, and he took the picture. Halloween in my neighborhood depended on the weather. At times it was cold, windy and rainy and you had to wear a coat over your costume, defeating the whole purpose of wearing the costume. Other years it was balmy and the streets were filled with miniature ghosts, witches, princesses, cowboys and monsters scampering across leafy suburban lawns, laughing, squealing, crying out " Trick or Treat."

A bedsheet ghost and friend

Bedsheet Ghost and Friend. In 1953 Trick-Or-Treaters posed for John.

Family Christmas 1956

FAMILY CHRISTMAS 1956. This is the family portrait John was trying to achieve when Pat was younger. He set the camera on a tripod and used a timer. Pat was old enough to understand she was to remain in her seat and look at the camera. Evelyn always insisted that photos be taken in her dining room. Some years we wore red and green paper hats and the table had a Christmas table cloth. The tree was always an evergreen kept alive in a stand with water. It created a lovely fragrance in the house.

Christmas dinner was roast beef, baked potatoes and two vegetables, usually green beans and carrots and of course, gravy, made from the roast drippings. The warmed plates were loaded with food and brought to the dining room table. Since the roast was always too much meat for three people, it became three dinners. December 26 featured cold roast with scalloped potatoes and green peas, and a different dessert. Dec 27 featured Shepherd's Pie, made with John grinding the left-over roast by hand using a tool he screwed to the kitchen counter top. The result resembled minced meat. Evelyn then baked the meat with gravy, carrots and peas and topped it with mashed potatoes. Shepherd's Pie was my favorite, the first-day roast John's favorite and the cold roast with scalloped potatoes, Evelyn's favorite. Due to this three-day Christmas Dinner that all three of us loved, we had it every year. Variety was achieved through the many types of desserts Evelyn selected.

Cowgirl Christmas

COWGIRL CHRISTMAS. I received a cowgirl outfit and had to try it on immediately. It came with a "pearl" handle revolver. John captured my joy at receiving the gift. But kids are fussy. Look at my little hand fingering the dress, as if to say, this is what I like, and the other hand trying to throw away the gun.

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The pictures are great, and having the story even better. Warm happy family. Thank you.
posted by Joyce Vander Bogart