Chanel Miller, author of the bestselling book “Know My Name,” is debuting artwork at the Asian Art Museum’s new Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang Pavilion in San Francisco. Although the Asian Art Museum is currently closed due to COVID-19, Miller’s large panels are entirely visible from the street.
First known as “Emily Doe” in a sexual assault case that made national headlines, Miller created “I was, I am, I will be” to represent “healing as a three-part process: reflecting on the past, being mindful in the present, and envisioning the future.”
Los Angeles Times photographer Jay L. Clendenin connected with the artist via FaceTime for a virtual photo shoot before the debut.
Here, Clendenin explains his process working with Miller, along with the portraits that resulted:
Being a photographer, more specifically, a portrait photographer, during these new coronavirus times has been a challenge, to say the least. If I’m lucky enough to have an in-person photo shoot, I must not only remain socially distant but expressionless due to continuous mask wearing, which hides the majority of my face. This makes any interaction more impersonal.
However, this brings us to the latest advancement in COVID-19 portraiture: the virtual photo session.
Through trial and error, I’ve made use of the FaceTime application on an iPad. It allows subjects to see my full face and, thus, my excitement over certain poses or creative processes. Moreover, it brings back the more personal moments I’m able to share when in-person.
Chanel Miller and I spoke by phone and then FaceTimed so I could get a sense of possible background possibilities in her New York apartment.
I saw several locations that sparked my creativity, and Miller was quick to add some ideas. We agreed on several locations, and Miller offered to draw a mural of a Manhattan brownstone-lined street to be used as one of the portrait backgrounds.
The day of our shoot, we connected again via FaceTime with the help of her boyfriend Lucas’s iPhone. Lucas was able to help hold and angle the iPhone camera lens, which helped the photo process significantly.
I began directing the moving of furniture to clean up the frame I was seeing. The mural Miller drew, which she later titled “Sunny Brownstones,” was the heart of my portrait idea, a way to show Miller’s work and capture her new New York life without going outside and losing our Wi-Fi connection, which makes our virtual collaboration possible.
I took some portraits at her desk with the mural in the background. Eventually, I asked if she could draw something from her show featured at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Documenting this drawing process created the great opportunity for Calendar photo editor Taylor Arthur to design the lead image of this display, showing Chanel’s illustration come to life on her sketch pad.