Richard Crump Miller was born on Aug 6, 1912, in Hanford, CA, to Ray Oakley Miller and Laura Belle Crump Miller. He grew up in Los Angeles, where his father was the rector of St. James Episcopal Church. .
Dick’s father had a 3¼x4¼ folding roll-film camera, which sparked Dick’s interest in photography. In 1929 Dick was introduced to the Leica and Graflex cameras. He later studied cinematography at Stanford University and Pomona College. He did his final year at USC where, in 1933, he met Margaret, his future wife. They were married for 70 years. “Luckiest thing I ever did,” he says.
Dick had ambitions as an actor and appeared in a stage play in 1935 at the Pasadena Community Playhouse. There he shot photographs of fellow players with a borrowed Leica. He then acquired a Zeiss Contax I 35mm camera and began to take photographs by available light. While traveling to New York looking for work as an actor, Dick showed his photographs to Edward Steichen. Encouraged by Steichen’s reaction, he continued to photograph actors.
But Dick returned to Los Angeles “because Margaret wasn’t going to wait. She was seeing some other guy. So I came straight back to California. I still remember her coming in the door after teaching in Santa Paula. She came to see the folks. I still remember that hug.” They married in 1937.
In 1939 Dick left acting for a career as a photographer.
He learned the tri-color carbro printing process out of a book and purchased a one-shot color camera, enabling him to shoot live subjects. By using mirrors and filters, a one-shot camera created three separate negatives in the camera with one shot. These separation negatives were then used to print the bromides for making a tri-color pigment print, or carbro (see a full description of the carbro printing process). Only a few other photographers were working in carbro. John Kelly, whom Dick met, made all the carbro prints that Paul Hesse was famous for.
During this period Dick worked mainly in advertising and commercial photography. In 1939, Dick and Margaret’s first daughter, Linda, was born. Dick shot pictures of Linda primarily with a one-shot color 6×9 mm camera and the 5×7. When Linda was two, Dick borrowed a 2¼ x3 ¼ from the B. B. Nichols shop, took her picture, and made a carbro. He sent the picture to the Saturday Evening Post.
“I didn’t know they didn’t buy photos,” he says now. But in 1941 the image was adopted as a cover, one of only two photographic Post covers that year and the first that Dick had ever sold. The photograph got Dick the attention of some NY agents and enabled him to sign up with the Freelance Photographer’s Guild. He sent them material that they sold for him.
Then came the war. At that point, “you could either go into the service or get a war job,” he remembered. So in 1941, Dick got a job in the photo department at North American and began at last to earn a steady income from his photography. At North American, he also met the photographer Brett Weston, with whom he formed a lifelong friendship.
“We both had gas coupons [special ones for defense industry employees]. We combined our coupons in order to save them up. Brett said we should take a trip to the desert to take pictures. It was a great friendship—it lasted the rest of my life.”
They took driving trips with Margaret and friends to the desert and other locations, shooting pictures and having picnics. Finally, Brett could no longer stand working at North American and went to Lockheed for another one or two months. Then he enlisted in the Army and was sent to New York City. “It was a perfect job for him,” Dick remembers. “He lucked out. He worked the night shift, so he slept all night on the job and then did his own work during the day.”
Between 1942 and 1944, Dick and Margaret had two more daughters, Janice (Jan) and Margaret (Peg). Although his day job at North American was to photograph airplanes and provide illustrations for service manuals, Dick still pursued his own work on the side.
At this time he started using Kodachrome transparency film in lieu of the three-color camera. Kodachrome came in cut film sizes: first the 35mm, then 4×5, 8×10, and even 11×14. He sold some of his photographs through the Freelance Photographers Guild and marketed his other work to Liberty and This Week magazines, among others. “At that time the magazines did not accept 35mm,” he said. “But later they found they could get perfectly good results from Kodachrome 35mm.”
In 1944-45 the war ended in Europe, and for just one week it was safe to quit. So Dick quit.
“One day in 1944, across the street from Technicolor, I saw a shop: Gasparcolor. They needed a printer, so I took the job. Right after that the draft got tough, and they took all the guys at North American.” But Dick had an exemption when he went to work for Dr. Bela Gaspar. Gasparcolor, the dye bleach process on which the Cibachrome (now called Ilfochrome) process is based, was considered vital to the war effort, and Gaspar was able to provide Dick with an exemption because he was convinced Dick was essential to his work—he was the only printer able to test and print with the material as it was being developed.
“The day I first went into Gasparcolor, the sample prints on the wall were faded. So I made sample prints and replaced the ones on the wall. I tested all their new materials with my own pictures from Kodachrome. Dr. Gaspar loved my work and was very happy to use my images,” he remembers. “Dr. Gaspar let me keep my own prints. The Gaspars faded on the wall, but in the dark, they lasted forever.”
Although he had many offers, Gaspar always refused to sell the rights to his process. After Dick left and Gaspar died, Paul Dreyfus, who was the chemist and technician for Gaspar, went to work for CIBA AG. When the patents ran out, he developed the process for Cibachrome.
While working for Gaspar, Dick met Nicholas Murray and Paul Outerbridge, who had come for a demonstration of the process. At that time too, Robert Coburn offered him an opportunity to join IATSE #659, the entertainment industry photographer’s union, so that he could print color at Columbia. Dick declined, choosing to remain independent and to pursue his freelance work. “All during those years I worked weekends, selling to magazines. I sent them the Kodachromes.”
In March and April 1946, Dick photographed a model provided through the Blue Book Models agency, run by Emmeline Snively. Emmeline said, “I’ve got a real cute girl. You ought to see her.” The model’s name was Norma Jeane Dougherty.
“She was a cutie, and they had sold some covers of her already,” Dick said. He hesitated because the magazines did not like to use a model more than once. But on March 2, Dick and Norma Jeane took a trip. He posed her leaning against a tree, then on the beach, and finally on a fence because they had to leave the beach abruptly. “I remember the crowd was collecting very fast. A lot of men.”
“I did not shoot her for very long. The market was already saturated,” he recalls. But Dick did sell a cover of Norma Jeane to True Romance. “She was nice when she was Norma Jeane, very sweet. She came to dinner at the house. A nice, friendly girl.” Then she went to work for the studios, eventually becoming Marilyn Monroe. Dick photographed her after she became a celebrity. “I met Marilyn Monroe again on Some Like It Hot. I was the still photographer.” She smiled and said, “Hi, Dick” but was not interested in reviving their friendship.
From 1946-54 Dick went to work as an assistant to photographers Valentino Sarra, Ruzzie Green, and John Engstead on commercial jobs. Ruzzie Green was an important NY photographer, “a very nice guy who hired me as a helper. I photographed celebrities for Family Circle, Parents, American Weekly, Colliers, Life, and Time, mostly on assignment through the agency. I used a Contax 1. But I always wanted a Contax 2. I bought the Contax 1 just before the 2 came out and I did not have enough money to switch. I felt I had been had. The 2 was just a better camera.” Dick also continued his freelance work, photographing children and animals for calendars and magazine covers.
In 1952, needing regular income, Dick went to work as the television lighting director at KLAC, where he stayed until 1955. “I just went in with a portfolio and got the job. I worked on the sets for commercials, all live TV, no second chances. Not too many people around who could do it. But then videotape came out, and live TV was finished.”
Returning once again to freelance work from 1955 to 1962, Dick worked on retainer at Globe Photos, covering the entertainment industry. “I worked day to day, depending on the assignments.” In time, he covered more than seventy films.
His first on-location assignment was for Giant (1955), where his job was to shadow James Dean. When Dean died, many pictures of him were sold, becoming iconic images and providing Dick with much-needed income. The death had a big impact on Dick, since he and Dean had developed a close relationship based on a mutual interest in Porsches. Dick felt as though he had lost a friend.
In 1962 Linda, Dick and Margaret’s first daughter, died at the age of 24. That year, Dick went into semi-retirement, occasionally shooting stills on motion-picture sets but primarily pursuing his own photographic interests.
During the 1970s, Dick experimented with grinding pigment and coating his own pigment transfer papers to create carbros. Most of the materials were no longer manufactured, and what was available was of poor quality. The most difficult item to obtain was the uncoated bromide needed to make the tri-color transfers in the carbro process. He eventually obtained it by convincing a manufacturer to make a special run, and he was able to make a few tri-color test prints.
All through these years Dick and Brett Weston had maintained their long-standing friendship. Brett often came to Dick’s homes—first in Hollywood, then Sherman Oaks, then Encino, and finally Calabasas—to show his newest work to private gatherings.
In 1969 Dick met Michael Andrews, who was temporarily visiting from Vietnam and who left his newly acquired Rollei 2¼ outfit with Dick, a camera Dick loved using. Dick kept the Rollei until 1979.
During the years of their long friendship, Dick and Michael often discussed what a miracle it would be if it should ever become possible to print an archival pigment print directly from a computer. In their imaginations, this was not likely to happen in their lifetimes. But Michael eventually printed a digital portfolio of Dick’s pictures of Norma Jeane (available on this site), as well as the color portion of Dick’s images of the Weston family.
In 1979 Dick met photographer Reece Vogel, who was interested in making carbros. In 1984, they rescued materials and equipment from McGraw Colorgraph when its defunct plant was being shut down. Reece eventually printed the black-and-white silver prints of the portfolio containing Dick’s pictures of the Westons (also available here).
In 2003 Dick was confined to a wheelchair due to degenerating bone in the cervical area of his spine. Although he retained the use of his hands to some degree, his ability to make prints and even operate his camera was seriously curtailed.
Always having had hermetic tendencies, as the years passed Dick became ever more reclusive, until finally his world was reduced to two rooms with views of the surrounding mountains, to Margaret, and to his wheelchair. Their daughter Jan cared for them both; Margaret, although physically capable, fell progressively into dementia. The more she was whittled away, the greater her naturally sweet nature showed through. In June 2006, Dick’s beloved Margaret passed peacefully on.
In 2007, Dick moved to New York’s Hudson Valley with Jan.
Dick achieved major recognition at the age of 96. The J. Paul Getty Museum exhibited his work in 2009. Dick attended the opening with his daughters Peg and Jan.
He died on October 15, 2010, at the age of 98.