Short bio: Stephen Milner (b.1991) is a photographer currently living in Eugene, Oregon. He received his BFA in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2013 and is currently a Graduate Teaching Fellow in the MFA program at the University of Oregon. His work has been featured in the Oxford American, PDN Magazine, Lenscratch, Paper Journal, The Photographic Dictionary, Humble Arts Foundation, TIME Lightbox, Aint-Bad Magazine, Juxtapoz Magazine, thisispaper and iGNANT. In 2013 he was awarded the grand prize in both the PDN Best of College Photography and the PDN & Panasonic “Changing Photography” award. Recently Stephen was named as Aline Smithson’s (Lenscratch) “Five Favorites: Photographers to Watch”, listed as a 2016 Flash Forward winner for the Magenta Foundation and was granted the 2016 SPE Student Award in Image Innovation.
Why do you photograph on film? When I first started shooting 4×5 large format film I was amazed at its ability to capture the atmospheric qualities of the landscape and to be able to pull something different out of the people who are willing to sit in front of my camera. I found that people were way more interested in being photographed; I think it was because of the size and the unfamiliar process that intrigued them. It made them more comfortable with me, I think knowing that if I lugged around a huge camera that took forever to set up, I must be pretty serious about my craft. I will always be attracted to that stomach churning sensation of waiting to process your film and finally getting to see if your photograph made it through the method.
What is your work about? The Ogeechee River is a 294-mile long black-water river that stretches from Crawfordville, GA, southeast into the Ossabaw Sound on the Atlantic coast. The river is a 5,540 square-mile basin and along it, hundreds of thousands of Georgians live and work, making it among the most important natural resources in the state. In May 2011, the largest fish kill in Georgia’s history was recorded, leaving over 40,000 fish dead. King American Finishing, a textile processor in Screven County, was discovered to have been discharging a fire retardant into the river for six years without an environmental permit. The thousands of dead fish were only found just below the King Finishing outfall pipe; no dead fish were found upstream from the plant. The river community is one that is based on everyday reliance on the river, whether it’s for food, transportation or recreation. In January 2014, after a lengthy legal battle, the Ogeechee Riverkeeper prevailed over King American Finishing. Shortly after the settlement, when the weather started to warm, residents began to return to the river for recreation. Though the future of the river and its faithful community seem bright, the lingering fear of pollution and potential health risks still looms.