At 28 years old, Lia Clay Miller is a rising star in fashion photography, with a BFA from the esteemed Savannah College of Art and Design and a masters from NYC’s School of Visual Arts. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, I-D and Teen Vogue, and she’s photographed everyone from Hillary Clinton and Fran Lebowitz to Christine and the Queens and Pose’s Billy Porter and Indya Moore.
Miller, who says her work is rooted in the queer community, covered this year’s Queer Liberation March—the first Pride event she’d ever shot. Taking place on the morning of WorldPride and retracing the route of the first Gay Pride March in 1970, the event was intended to reclaim the spirit of activism some feel has been lost in the larger celebration. It stepped off from Sheridan Square, right by the West Village’s Stonewall Inn, and grew to an estimated 45,000 people as it made its way up Sixth Avenue to Central Park.
We spoke with Miller about her experience at the Queer Liberation March, the inspirations for her art and the line between documenting an event and being part of it.
When did you get started in photography?
Lia Clay Miller: I started when I was 8—my grandmother was a hobby photographer and she got me my first camera. I think it was an Olympus OM-10. She said I wouldn’t figure it out, which I took as a challenge. But really she encouraged me. I think that camera is still at her house.
When was your first Pride?
LCM: My first Pride was in Raleigh, North Carolina, when I was 16. I ran into my high school teacher there! It was smaller, of course, and centered on the queer community there, not so much all the commercial stuff we have now. It was before I transitioned, and I remember it being mostly a lot of gay men.
You chose to shoot the Queer Liberation March. Who did you march with?
LCM: I marched with ACT UP, with Adam Eli of Voices 4. I went to Adam’s apartment and then we went to Washington Square.
Were you there as a participant or a photographer?
LCM: Kind of both. I definitely felt more drawn to that parade than the [WorldPride March]—especially with the recent murders of trans women of color. We’ve seen so much violence and brutality, I didn’t want to keep myself from participating in the response to that. But at the same time I was there to do a job.
Do you consider your work artistic or documentarian?
LCM: I’m a portrait photographer—I hope it’s art, but I’m reticent to say that. For this event, it was most important to document who and what was there.
In your images, there’s an amazing contrast between the black-and-white photos and those that have a pop of color.
LCM: I’m really inspired by Chantal Regnault, this amazing photographer who shot the local ballroom scene in the late 1980s. And by Peter Hujar—the idea of documenting history in black and white. But with ACT UP at the Queer Liberation March, we painted everyone’s hair pink. And it would have been an injustice not to portray that.
How did you decide which images to choose for this gallery?
LCM: Really, the things I submitted were the things I shot. I didn’t shoot a lot of extraneous stuff or images I didn’t use. And I shot digital, using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, with a 50-millimeter fixed lens. I’ve been doing more work where I shoot quickly, which is oddly nice—not being able to overthink everything to death. I like to say I work well when I have total control, but also when I have to work quickly.
What was the energy like at the Queer Liberation March?
LCM: It was amazing. And people had lovely reactions to my taking their picture. The event was kind of anti-capitalist, so I didn’t want to take away from that. If people said no, I held space for that too. But it was a really powerful and political moment. There were a lot of callouts to the misrepresentation of where Pride is now. There was a die-in near the Fox News offices. I started in Washington Square and we headed up to Central Park, where there was a huge rally after.
You recently got married, right?
LCM: Yes—in Vegas, baby! I actually wound up at the very end of the march with my husband. We got separated [on the way up] and took a moment to just catch our breath, which felt just as important as the march. [Being in Central Park] was a quiet place to just take it all in.