7 minute read

Love, Keepsakes and The Joshua Tree

Framed within scenic Californian summits, Miles Witt Boyer documents the attachments of marriage and devotion

Weddings and snapshots may go together like slurred speeches and family feasts, but for Miles Witt Boyer, images like these are more than just stereotypical souvenirs. “These photos are an investment in the legacy of your relationship, your kids, grandkids, and extended family,” he begins. “You’re creating an heirloom that could save your marriage.” He’s witnessed a surfeit of bound knots, I dos and dodgy dancing, but Miles’ passion for this sanctified event has never been dampened. Now, in the sunburned hills of California’s Joshua Tree National Park, he’s investigating what it means to form the basis of an enduring bond.

Without question, Miles faces a steep undertaking. Capturing the candor and sincerity of a couple’s dynamic is a problematic obstacle, but it invigorates his process. “It starts about six months before the session. It begins in the relationship with the client, and the communication we have,” he says. “As a wedding photographer, you uncover intimacy in vulnerability. I like to place couples in moments that force them to feel emotionally aware of each other. That’s where the association materializes, and it’s that connection which humanizes them.”

Man sitting atop huge natural stone arch with woman beneath

Photo 2021 © Miles Witt Boyer | FUJIFILM GFX100 and GF63mmF2.8 R WR, 1/1500 sec at F3.6, ISO 125

As time goes by, reliance and support may be the most prevailing aspects of a successful long-term relationship. By deliberately crafting scenarios that induce these behaviors, Miles encapsulates the crux of commitment. “It’s that split-second where she’s precarious, or when he has to rely on her in some way. That’s the humanity we identify with. As a photographer, my job is to be present. I iron out the imperfections, so they don’t affect the final product. You’re able to exaggerate the connection when you introduce a necessary element of discomfort.” Ostensibly, these tactics may sound a little engineered, but it’s the uniqueness of direction that produces consistently engaging portraiture. “Sunrise in the desert is obviously very cold. I knew she was going to step out of the car in this cute little white dress. I knew she was going to feel the chill. But it’s not my job to solve that problem. It’s his,” he says. “There’s purpose and intent behind the dilemma. Watching couples resolve these issues says a lot about their relationship, the authenticity. I’m not interested in painting portraits of pretty lives which aren’t real.”

Named after the indigenous plants that populate the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree was designated a National Park in 1994. Converging two distinct desert ecosystems, it encompasses 790,636 acres, and for Miles, it’s a staggering sight to behold. “If I’m being completely honest, it’s a challenging place to work. I’ve spent most of my career telling people how to use natural light, but Joshua Tree is like being on the surface of the moon. From the first to the last shadows of the day, it’s radioactive.” It may sound daunting, but environs like these are ideal for Miles. For years he’s traveled the world, documenting wedding portraits in a plethora of places. Save for some logistical planning, he was firmly in his element. “There wasn’t a lot of organization. I researched the locations themselves, and considered how I’d light them. I spent a lot of time with Google Maps, observing the topographic challenges… the angles, when the sun was going to rise, that kind of thing. First photos had to happen at 6:05am, so that was fun,” he jests.

Like most photographers on the move, Miles prefers to keep things light and uncomplicated. “When we rolled into the park, we were the first people on the ground that day, other than the campers. I carried two cameras and an extensive lens kit, but on the whole, kept it fairly simple. I only ended up using three lenses throughout the entire session. Because we were hiking, I kept unnecessary weight to a minimum.” Miles utilized two Fujifilm systems on this project: GFX100S and GFX100. When it came to lenses, primes were preferred to zooms. This created a dynamic approach, which established an interactive, reciprocal relationship with his subjects. “I don’t go for zooms… I don’t feel as creative when I’m not forced to compose with my feet. My goal is to get as close to a first-person experience as I possibly can. That doesn’t mean I’m at arm’s length, but that I’m adjusting my body so I can feel the moments with my subject. When we’re in tandem, that’s when I react. There’s heart behind the image that I produce. For me, I feel detached if I’m zooming.

“It’s why I only ever create with prime glass – that’s the power of these systems. I feel like I’m wandering around with my hands strapped to a rocket ship. It’s this intuitive paintbrush that reads the way I want to create, and never inhibits. It’s not loud, heavy, or cumbersome. The first time I picked up a GFX System, it was like speaking a new language. I’d been using this machine gun camera for so long, which captured beautiful images, but lacked soul. GFX was slow and intentional, and reminded me of why I fell in love with this medium in the first place. I often feel like I’m the one marketing the camera to Fujifilm, and not the other way around!”

Self-consciousness is the thread running through all of Miles’ photos, binding them with an honest edge that makes the images frank and relatable. Whether it’s the insecurities of the subjects, or the anxiety that accompanies the search for that special setup, diffidence is at the heart of his work. “There comes a point at which the individuals being pictured can become too aware of the process. When that happens, I find it actually degrades the whole project. The first 20 minutes might be the most uneasy section, but it’s often where the best photos are taken,” he explains. “To me, the two most photogenic human emotions are sadness and awkwardness. I think we empathize with those emotions the fastest. When you feel the friction between two people, I think that translates really well in the frame.”

Like any other portrait photographer, the underlying energy of Miles’s standpoint stems from a carefully constructed dynamic. Knowing when to get involved in moment-to-moment interactions is a large part of the creative process. “To create in this style relies on a natural social tact. You have to read people and understand their body language, and know when you’re pushing things too far,” he explains. “Sometimes, I’m friendly. In other instances, I realize how empowered couples can be without my interference, so I sit back and see what happens. In the end, it’s not even about the photos. They’re just a by-product of the experience.”

Ensuring that his photos avoid the self-centeredness of certain portraiture styles, Miles appraises his images as mementos of feelings, as opposed to tokens of past appearance. “Around 90% of the time, you’re dealing with people envisaging themselves in these pictures. They’re thinking of an image they’ve seen, then they’re trying to replicate it. At that point, it’s only about vanity. If you’re not careful, you’ll get swallowed up by the narcissism of the whole thing. That’s why you often can’t see faces in my pictures. I would rather people remember what they felt like in the moment… not what they looked like.” Fashioning relics to stand the test of time, it’s clear that Miles’s creations embody the sentiment he sets out to reveal.


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