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2024 - The photographer: Sandro Miller

Tags: Alumni Profile | ECC 75
Published 06/19/2024
ECC alum Sandro Miller in his Chicago home and studio

ECC alum Sandro Miller in his Chicago home and studio

Sandro Miller's story is one of resilience, passion, and the transformative power of photography. The world-renowned photographer has collaborated with icons such as Michael Jordan and John Malkovich. But his journey began far from the glitz and glamour of success — it started at Elgin Community College (ECC), fueled by a desire to escape a difficult childhood and a deep fascination with capturing the world through a lens.

Spark Ignited

Miller's childhood was marked by hardship. At five, his father died in a car accident, forcing his mother, who immigrated to the United States from Italy, to raise him alone with limited resources. Miller craved an outlet. Photos, particularly those he saw in magazines during the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s, became his window to the world. Images documenting the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and social protests not only educated him but also revealed the power of photography to move hearts and minds.

Although Miller wouldn’t confidently know photography was his calling until high school, photos affected him early in life.

“Photography to me was education,” Miller said. “Photography was power. I was coming out of a really difficult childhood, and I was looking for something to save me.”

Seeing a photograph of the car in which his father was killed had a compelling effect on Miller.

“I think that was the first photograph that really moved me. It was the first time I understood the power of a photograph.”

A pivotal moment came at age 16 when Miller stumbled upon a photography magazine featuring the work of Irving Penn. "It was that day in my bedroom that I decided this is what I wanted to do with my life," he recalled.

Launchpad for Dreams

While prestigious institutions such as Columbia or Yale seemed out of reach, ECC offered a beacon of hope. Miller enrolled, drawn to its robust photography program. Under the guidance of instructors John Grady and Lou Krueger, he dove headfirst into learning the technical aspects and artistic foundations of photography.

"I was there to learn — that was my goal, my dream," Miller said. "Photography was my savior. I had a purpose when I went to community college."

Grady and Krueger became more than just instructors; they were mentors, recognizing the young man's raw talent and the void left by the loss of his father. They nurtured his talent and encouraged him to pursue his passion. After a year and a half, they saw his immense potential and urged him to take his skills outside the classroom. Years later, ECC would honor his achievements with an honorary Associate of Arts degree.

For Miller, excellence wasn't a destination but a constant pursuit. He began building his extensive photography book collection while still at ECC, a commitment that has grown to include nearly 1,500 books. His work ethic defied the boundaries of a typical day job; it was a 24/7 dedication.

Facing Obstacles

Life inevitably throws curveballs. In 2011, Miller received a devastating blow — a diagnosis of stage 4 cancer. However, this setback only fueled his creative fire. Some of his most successful projects, including work in Morocco and the iconic "Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich: Homage to Photographic Masters" series, were born during his recovery. This series paid tribute to legendary photographers through portraits of John Malkovich reimagined as historical figures such as Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.

Both projects garnered him the prestigious International Photography of the Year Award in 2014 and 2015, propelling him onto the international stage. "That put me on the map of internationally known photographers," reflected Miller.

Giving Back

In 2022, Miller gave a photography presentation as part of ECC’s Humanities Center Speaker Series. He finds immense joy in sharing his knowledge and experience with aspiring photographers and encourages them to chase their passions with unwavering belief and relentless effort.

"Believe in yourself, never give up, and work hard because the world has so much to offer," he advises while noting that finding a career that allows you to give back and make a positive impact is equally important. And in Miller's case, that impact comes not just from his captivating imagery but also from the inspiration he provides to countless others pursuing their dreams.