Sunday, December 19, 2010

Martin Miller: The Face of Death

Armored Nuclear Weapon Transport Rail Car and Locomotive, "The White Train" 1951

Martin Miller is an artist who puts a face on death.  It is not the anthropomorphic face of the death head, or grim reaper, or Kali that he presents, not the horsemen of the apocalypse, the danse macabre or a gory landscape of corpses. 


The face of death that Mr. Miller shows to us is much more realistic, commonplace and ultimately more disturbing.  The true face of death, in the form of potential and actual causes, lies in the thoughtless mindless progression of an unchecked virus multiplying exponentially and thoughtlessly passed within an organism and throughout a population. 

Beta Calutrons, 2nd-Stage Source of Hiroshima Bomb Uranium, Oak Ridge, TN 1943 
It is the sterile political or theoretical ideal of a community that step by natural, mundane, and tedious step brings forth annihilation.  The face of death is a pale turquoise control room with an uncomfortable office chair manned by a technician with thoughts of football games and family vacations, not evil destruction.

B Reactor Control Console, Source of Nagasaki Bomb Plutonium, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, WA 1944

  The face of death is an ordered utilitarian industrial park with a terrible purpose, or the fruit of a thousand ordinary factories.

Canadian-Made Sherman M4A1 "Grizzly Bear" Tank 1943

Each piece, moving forward, unchecked, is what threatens to, and often does, lay us all low.

Spartan Missile Silos and Missile Site Radar, Safeguard ABM System, Nekoma, ND  1975

Certainly there is ill will in the world, of course there is hate, rage and struggle.  These topics are well documented and illustrated in every museum in the world, and most television programs and films flickering in front of our faces.  The role of artist is not always to focus on these emotional themes, but can also be to direct our gaze at what lies silently in the background.  Tawdry and pedestrian, but moving inexorably toward us, following instructions from a gene or a poorly written manual, the big threats to our lives are given a face in Mr. Miller's work.

Here, to accompany these images, are some of Mr. Miller's own words:

    "... Pestilence has menaced humankind from the beginning.  Moderns assume that medical science can deal with any such threat but, even today, there is no cure for yellow fever, Ebola, Marburg, smallpox, West Nile, polio, equine encephalitis, herpes, or SARS.  Though supportive medical treatment can improve the odds of survival in some cases, there is very little surge capacity in our medical establishment to handle a major outbreak.  In the absence of any treatment, mortality rates soar as high as 90-95% for Ebola, inhalation anthrax, and pneumonic bubonic plague; 70% for SARS and yellow fever.  New and deadly diseases may evolve anywhere in the world.  Today's globe-trotting culture guarantees that, if loosed into the population in one location, it will be spread in a matter of hours to the rest of the world."

Inertial Guidance Module, Peacekeeper (MX) ICBM 1986

"In its broadest sense, culture is the sum total of our beliefs, our fears, our behavior patterns, our institutions, our common values, as well as our art, music, and literature.  But the arts often neglect or omit reference to the Cold War.  In fact, most of us who lived through those times have scant visual knowledge of what may be fairly called the dark side of our culture.  We were immersed in the myopic soup of getting an education, finding a job, marrying, and having children.  Meanwhile, far from our thoughts, bright and earnest young men were spending 24-hour duties behind 7-ft thick steel doors.  There they drilled constantly the procedures to launch missiles with a 30-minute trip to the Soviet Union.  The nuclear warhead on the Titan II missile ... packed nearly three times the explosive power of all the bombs dropped by the Allies in WWII.  And there were 54 of these missiles on alert for 25 years."
Gable Mountain Plutonium Vaults, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, WA 1944

Martin Miller's work does not offer answers to our human condition, but the passion and wisdom behind it allows us to see death in a new way.  It is not the only way, or the only face.  It is not the whole truth, but it is a very valuable piece of it, and by providing us with this vision he gives us the opportunity to understand our condition in a deeper way.  What we choose to do with this knowledge is our responsibility.

For more of Martin Miller's work, please visit his website

All Photos and quoted text are copywrited by Martin Miller and are used with his permission. 

1 comment:

Perpetua's Garden said...

Well done, Mr. Miller and The Daily Undertaker for updating the face of death!

As symbols of death, skulls and the Grim Reaper should finally themselves be put to rest. They have become utterly ineffectual as momento mori, hardly even good for horror movies any longer.

Mr. Miller's images are far more effective, and without even a human face shown.

If he begins to take photos in old age homes, he will present an even more shocking corrective to our contemporary illusions of having blunted death's blade.

In fact, we have not at all done so, we have only pushed the reckoning a few years ahead by our medicines, and a generation or two into the future by our irresponsible exploitation of the natural environment. At some point the bills have to be paid - this is true regardless of the society, level of technology, or anything else. We do well to remember that excepting perhaps some sort of spiritual solution, death does not disappear, only changes its masks.

Excellent blog this!

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