Simulacra (1)

By: Peggy Nelson
November 26, 2019

Sandro Miller, Dorothea Lange / Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California (1936), 2014

It is fitting that Malkovich introduces our new, occasional series on simulacra. Copies, reenactments, repetitions and revisionings have long been an enthusiasm here at HILOBROW, in any media and in any way mediated. But it falls to the chameleonic master thespian (and occasional Cambridge, MA denizen), John Malkovich, to really inhabit the doubling with his own brand of darkly comic gravitas.

Scene from Being John Malkovich

In an inversion of Being John Malkovich, the brilliantly weird Charlie Kaufman film in which anyone can “teleport” into John Malkovich’s head and “be” him for a few minutes; photographer Sandro Miller has asked John Malkovich to “be” everyone, in a stunning series of reenacted photos from history and fashion, Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to photographic masters.

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich was started in 2013 after Sandro wanted to pay tribute to the photographers who have inspired him and shaped his photographic career. He selected 35 iconic photos, and then enlisted the eager help of Malkovich.” – Michael Zhang, petapixel

Sandro Miller, Philippe Halsman / Salvador Dalí (1954), 2014

Sandro Miller, Andy Warhol / Self Portrait (Fright Wig) (1986), 2014

Miller met and befriended Malkovich when the former interned at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater in the 1990s, before moving on to a successful career in fashion and editorial photography. Miller here uses his image-making chops to interrogate the recent history of portraiture in service to documentation and performance in the creation of identity. And given that John Malkovich resembles no one so much as himself, the level of resemblance achieved here is truly uncanny – while Dali or Warhol might seem to be easy to caricature in their exaggerated presentations, others are less so. And yet Miller and Malkovich claim them for their own.

Sandro Miller, Diane Arbus / Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey (1967), 2014

Sandro Miller, Yousuf Karsh / Ernest Hemingway (1957), 2014

Sandro Miller, Victor Skrebneski / Bette Davis (1971), Los Angeles Studio, 2014

The series pays homage to Dorothea Lange, Edward Curtis, Man Ray, Robert Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, Horst P. Horst, Annie Leibovitz, and Diane Arbus among others, and ranges over historical eras from the Civil War to contemporary Hollywood.

The resulting images are of course ridiculous; and yet, in the formal beauty of the photos, the strange echoing resonance of reenactment, and the fearless commitment of Malkovich to anyone, or anything, he is portraying, they reach beyond, towards an asymptotic sublime.

Sandro Miller, Bert Stern / Marilyn in Pink Roses (from The Last Session, 1962), 2014


Sandro Miller website
Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich project site
Florence Owens Tompkins, subject of Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother
Einstein sticking his tongue out, Arthur Sasse, 1951